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How to Write a Discussion Section | Tips & Examples

Published on August 21, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 18, 2023.

Discussion section flow chart

The discussion section is where you delve into the meaning, importance, and relevance of your results .

It should focus on explaining and evaluating what you found, showing how it relates to your literature review and paper or dissertation topic , and making an argument in support of your overall conclusion. It should not be a second results section.

There are different ways to write this section, but you can focus your writing around these key elements:

  • Summary : A brief recap of your key results
  • Interpretations: What do your results mean?
  • Implications: Why do your results matter?
  • Limitations: What can’t your results tell us?
  • Recommendations: Avenues for further studies or analyses

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Table of contents

What not to include in your discussion section, step 1: summarize your key findings, step 2: give your interpretations, step 3: discuss the implications, step 4: acknowledge the limitations, step 5: share your recommendations, discussion section example, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about discussion sections.

There are a few common mistakes to avoid when writing the discussion section of your paper.

  • Don’t introduce new results: You should only discuss the data that you have already reported in your results section .
  • Don’t make inflated claims: Avoid overinterpretation and speculation that isn’t directly supported by your data.
  • Don’t undermine your research: The discussion of limitations should aim to strengthen your credibility, not emphasize weaknesses or failures.

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discuss the findings of the research

Start this section by reiterating your research problem and concisely summarizing your major findings. To speed up the process you can use a summarizer to quickly get an overview of all important findings. Don’t just repeat all the data you have already reported—aim for a clear statement of the overall result that directly answers your main research question . This should be no more than one paragraph.

Many students struggle with the differences between a discussion section and a results section . The crux of the matter is that your results sections should present your results, and your discussion section should subjectively evaluate them. Try not to blend elements of these two sections, in order to keep your paper sharp.

  • The results indicate that…
  • The study demonstrates a correlation between…
  • This analysis supports the theory that…
  • The data suggest that…

The meaning of your results may seem obvious to you, but it’s important to spell out their significance for your reader, showing exactly how they answer your research question.

The form of your interpretations will depend on the type of research, but some typical approaches to interpreting the data include:

  • Identifying correlations , patterns, and relationships among the data
  • Discussing whether the results met your expectations or supported your hypotheses
  • Contextualizing your findings within previous research and theory
  • Explaining unexpected results and evaluating their significance
  • Considering possible alternative explanations and making an argument for your position

You can organize your discussion around key themes, hypotheses, or research questions, following the same structure as your results section. Alternatively, you can also begin by highlighting the most significant or unexpected results.

  • In line with the hypothesis…
  • Contrary to the hypothesized association…
  • The results contradict the claims of Smith (2022) that…
  • The results might suggest that x . However, based on the findings of similar studies, a more plausible explanation is y .

As well as giving your own interpretations, make sure to relate your results back to the scholarly work that you surveyed in the literature review . The discussion should show how your findings fit with existing knowledge, what new insights they contribute, and what consequences they have for theory or practice.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do your results support or challenge existing theories? If they support existing theories, what new information do they contribute? If they challenge existing theories, why do you think that is?
  • Are there any practical implications?

Your overall aim is to show the reader exactly what your research has contributed, and why they should care.

  • These results build on existing evidence of…
  • The results do not fit with the theory that…
  • The experiment provides a new insight into the relationship between…
  • These results should be taken into account when considering how to…
  • The data contribute a clearer understanding of…
  • While previous research has focused on  x , these results demonstrate that y .

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Even the best research has its limitations. Acknowledging these is important to demonstrate your credibility. Limitations aren’t about listing your errors, but about providing an accurate picture of what can and cannot be concluded from your study.

Limitations might be due to your overall research design, specific methodological choices , or unanticipated obstacles that emerged during your research process.

Here are a few common possibilities:

  • If your sample size was small or limited to a specific group of people, explain how generalizability is limited.
  • If you encountered problems when gathering or analyzing data, explain how these influenced the results.
  • If there are potential confounding variables that you were unable to control, acknowledge the effect these may have had.

After noting the limitations, you can reiterate why the results are nonetheless valid for the purpose of answering your research question.

  • The generalizability of the results is limited by…
  • The reliability of these data is impacted by…
  • Due to the lack of data on x , the results cannot confirm…
  • The methodological choices were constrained by…
  • It is beyond the scope of this study to…

Based on the discussion of your results, you can make recommendations for practical implementation or further research. Sometimes, the recommendations are saved for the conclusion .

Suggestions for further research can lead directly from the limitations. Don’t just state that more studies should be done—give concrete ideas for how future work can build on areas that your own research was unable to address.

  • Further research is needed to establish…
  • Future studies should take into account…
  • Avenues for future research include…

Discussion section example

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In the discussion , you explore the meaning and relevance of your research results , explaining how they fit with existing research and theory. Discuss:

  • Your  interpretations : what do the results tell us?
  • The  implications : why do the results matter?
  • The  limitation s : what can’t the results tell us?

The results chapter or section simply and objectively reports what you found, without speculating on why you found these results. The discussion interprets the meaning of the results, puts them in context, and explains why they matter.

In qualitative research , results and discussion are sometimes combined. But in quantitative research , it’s considered important to separate the objective results from your interpretation of them.

In a thesis or dissertation, the discussion is an in-depth exploration of the results, going into detail about the meaning of your findings and citing relevant sources to put them in context.

The conclusion is more shorter and more general: it concisely answers your main research question and makes recommendations based on your overall findings.

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From Data to Discovery: The Findings Section of a Research Paper

Discover the role of the findings section of a research paper here. Explore strategies and techniques to maximize your understanding.

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Are you curious about the Findings section of a research paper? Did you know that this is a part where all the juicy results and discoveries are laid out for the world to see? Undoubtedly, the findings section of a research paper plays a critical role in presenting and interpreting the collected data. It serves as a comprehensive account of the study’s results and their implications.

Well, look no further because we’ve got you covered! In this article, we’re diving into the ins and outs of presenting and interpreting data in the findings section. We’ll be sharing tips and tricks on how to effectively present your findings, whether it’s through tables, graphs, or good old descriptive statistics.

Overview of the Findings Section of a Research Paper

The findings section of a research paper presents the results and outcomes of the study or investigation. It is a crucial part of the research paper where researchers interpret and analyze the data collected and draw conclusions based on their findings. This section aims to answer the research questions or hypotheses formulated earlier in the paper and provide evidence to support or refute them.

In the findings section, researchers typically present the data clearly and organized. They may use tables, graphs, charts, or other visual aids to illustrate the patterns, trends, or relationships observed in the data. The findings should be presented objectively, without any bias or personal opinions, and should be accompanied by appropriate statistical analyses or methods to ensure the validity and reliability of the results.

Organizing the Findings Section

The findings section of the research paper organizes and presents the results obtained from the study in a clear and logical manner. Here is a suggested structure for organizing the Findings section:

Introduction to the Findings

Start the section by providing a brief overview of the research objectives and the methodology employed. Recapitulate the research questions or hypotheses addressed in the study.

To learn more about methodology, read this article .

Descriptive Statistics and Data Presentation

Present the collected data using appropriate descriptive statistics. This may involve using tables, graphs, charts, or other visual representations to convey the information effectively. Remember: we can easily help you with that.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

Perform a thorough analysis of the data collected and describe the key findings. Present the results of statistical analyses or any other relevant methods used to analyze the data. 

Discussion of Findings

Analyze and interpret the findings in the context of existing literature or theoretical frameworks . Discuss any patterns, trends, or relationships observed in the data. Compare and contrast the results with prior studies, highlighting similarities and differences. 

Limitations and Constraints

Acknowledge and discuss any limitations or constraints that may have influenced the findings. This could include issues such as sample size, data collection methods, or potential biases. 

Summarize the main findings of the study and emphasize their significance. Revisit the research questions or hypotheses and discuss whether they have been supported or refuted by the findings.

Presenting Data in the Findings Section

There are several ways to present data in the findings section of a research paper. Here are some common methods:

  • Tables : Tables are commonly used to present organized and structured data. They are particularly useful when presenting numerical data with multiple variables or categories. Tables allow readers to easily compare and interpret the information presented. Learn how to cite tables in research papers here .
  • Graphs and Charts: Graphs and charts are effective visual tools for presenting data, especially when illustrating trends, patterns, or relationships. Common types include bar graphs, line graphs, scatter plots, pie charts, and histograms. Graphs and charts provide a visual representation of the data, making it easier for readers to comprehend and interpret.
  • Figures and Images: Figures and images can be used to present data that requires visual representation, such as maps, diagrams, or experimental setups. They can enhance the understanding of complex data or provide visual evidence to support the research findings.
  • Descriptive Statistics: Descriptive statistics provide summary measures of central tendency (e.g., mean, median, mode) and dispersion (e.g., standard deviation, range) for numerical data. These statistics can be included in the text or presented in tables or graphs to provide a concise summary of the data distribution.

How to Effectively Interpret Results

Interpreting the results is a crucial aspect of the findings section in a research paper. It involves analyzing the data collected and drawing meaningful conclusions based on the findings. Following are the guidelines on how to effectively interpret the results.

Step 1 – Begin with a Recap

Start by restating the research questions or hypotheses to provide context for the interpretation. Remind readers of the specific objectives of the study to help them understand the relevance of the findings.

Step 2 – Relate Findings to Research Questions

Clearly articulate how the results address the research questions or hypotheses. Discuss each finding in relation to the original objectives and explain how it contributes to answering the research questions or supporting/refuting the hypotheses.

Step 3 – Compare with Existing Literature

Compare and contrast the findings with previous studies or existing literature. Highlight similarities, differences, or discrepancies between your results and those of other researchers. Discuss any consistencies or contradictions and provide possible explanations for the observed variations.

Step 4 – Consider Limitations and Alternative Explanations

Acknowledge the limitations of the study and discuss how they may have influenced the results. Explore alternative explanations or factors that could potentially account for the findings. Evaluate the robustness of the results in light of the limitations and alternative interpretations.

Step 5 – Discuss Implications and Significance

Highlight any potential applications or areas where further research is needed based on the outcomes of the study.

Step 6 – Address Inconsistencies and Contradictions

If there are any inconsistencies or contradictions in the findings, address them directly. Discuss possible reasons for the discrepancies and consider their implications for the overall interpretation. Be transparent about any uncertainties or unresolved issues.

Step 7 – Be Objective and Data-Driven

Present the interpretation objectively, based on the evidence and data collected. Avoid personal biases or subjective opinions. Use logical reasoning and sound arguments to support your interpretations.

Reporting Statistical Significance

When reporting statistical significance in the findings section of a research paper, it is important to accurately convey the results of statistical analyses and their implications. Here are some guidelines on how to report statistical significance effectively:

  • Clearly State the Statistical Test: Begin by clearly stating the specific statistical test or analysis used to determine statistical significance. For example, you might mention that a t-test, chi-square test, ANOVA, correlation analysis, or regression analysis was employed.
  • Report the Test Statistic: Provide the value of the test statistic obtained from the analysis. This could be the t-value, F-value, chi-square value, correlation coefficient, or any other relevant statistic depending on the test used.
  • State the Degrees of Freedom: Indicate the degrees of freedom associated with the statistical test. Degrees of freedom represent the number of independent pieces of information available for estimating a statistic. For example, in a t-test, degrees of freedom would be mentioned as (df = n1 + n2 – 2) for an independent samples test or (df = N – 2) for a paired samples test.
  • Report the p-value: The p-value indicates the probability of obtaining results as extreme or more extreme than the observed results, assuming the null hypothesis is true. Report the p-value associated with the statistical test. For example, p < 0.05 denotes statistical significance at the conventional level of α = 0.05.
  • Provide the Conclusion: Based on the p-value obtained, state whether the results are statistically significant or not. If the p-value is less than the predetermined threshold (e.g., p < 0.05), state that the results are statistically significant. If the p-value is greater than the threshold, state that the results are not statistically significant.
  • Discuss the Interpretation: After reporting statistical significance, discuss the practical or theoretical implications of the finding. Explain what the significant result means in the context of your research questions or hypotheses. Address the effect size and practical significance of the findings, if applicable.
  • Consider Effect Size Measures: Along with statistical significance, it is often important to report effect size measures. Effect size quantifies the magnitude of the relationship or difference observed in the data. Common effect size measures include Cohen’s d, eta-squared, or Pearson’s r. Reporting effect size provides additional meaningful information about the strength of the observed effects.
  • Be Accurate and Transparent: Ensure that the reported statistical significance and associated values are accurate. Avoid misinterpreting or misrepresenting the results. Be transparent about the statistical tests conducted, any assumptions made, and potential limitations or caveats that may impact the interpretation of the significant results.

Conclusion of the Findings Section

The conclusion of the findings section in a research paper serves as a summary and synthesis of the key findings and their implications. It is an opportunity to tie together the results, discuss their significance, and address the research objectives. Here are some guidelines on how to write the conclusion of the Findings section:

Summarize the Key Findings

Begin by summarizing the main findings of the study. Provide a concise overview of the significant results, patterns, or relationships that emerged from the data analysis. Highlight the most important findings that directly address the research questions or hypotheses.

Revisit the Research Objectives

Remind the reader of the research objectives stated at the beginning of the paper. Discuss how the findings contribute to achieving those objectives and whether they support or challenge the initial research questions or hypotheses.

Suggest Future Directions

Identify areas for further research or future directions based on the findings. Discuss any unanswered questions, unresolved issues, or new avenues of inquiry that emerged during the study. Propose potential research opportunities that can build upon the current findings.

The Best Scientific Figures to Represent Your Findings 

Have you heard of any tool that helps you represent your findings through visuals like graphs, pie charts, and infographics? Well, if you haven’t, then here’s the tool you need to explore – Mind the Graph . It’s the tool that has the best scientific figures to represent your findings. Go, try it now, and make your research findings stand out!

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About Sowjanya Pedada

Sowjanya is a passionate writer and an avid reader. She holds MBA in Agribusiness Management and now is working as a content writer. She loves to play with words and hopes to make a difference in the world through her writings. Apart from writing, she is interested in reading fiction novels and doing craftwork. She also loves to travel and explore different cuisines and spend time with her family and friends.

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • 8. The Discussion
  • Purpose of Guide
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  • Glossary of Research Terms
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The purpose of the discussion section is to interpret and describe the significance of your findings in relation to what was already known about the research problem being investigated and to explain any new understanding or insights that emerged as a result of your research. The discussion will always connect to the introduction by way of the research questions or hypotheses you posed and the literature you reviewed, but the discussion does not simply repeat or rearrange the first parts of your paper; the discussion clearly explains how your study advanced the reader's understanding of the research problem from where you left them at the end of your review of prior research.

Annesley, Thomas M. “The Discussion Section: Your Closing Argument.” Clinical Chemistry 56 (November 2010): 1671-1674; Peacock, Matthew. “Communicative Moves in the Discussion Section of Research Articles.” System 30 (December 2002): 479-497.

Importance of a Good Discussion

The discussion section is often considered the most important part of your research paper because it:

  • Most effectively demonstrates your ability as a researcher to think critically about an issue, to develop creative solutions to problems based upon a logical synthesis of the findings, and to formulate a deeper, more profound understanding of the research problem under investigation;
  • Presents the underlying meaning of your research, notes possible implications in other areas of study, and explores possible improvements that can be made in order to further develop the concerns of your research;
  • Highlights the importance of your study and how it can contribute to understanding the research problem within the field of study;
  • Presents how the findings from your study revealed and helped fill gaps in the literature that had not been previously exposed or adequately described; and,
  • Engages the reader in thinking critically about issues based on an evidence-based interpretation of findings; it is not governed strictly by objective reporting of information.

Annesley Thomas M. “The Discussion Section: Your Closing Argument.” Clinical Chemistry 56 (November 2010): 1671-1674; Bitchener, John and Helen Basturkmen. “Perceptions of the Difficulties of Postgraduate L2 Thesis Students Writing the Discussion Section.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 5 (January 2006): 4-18; Kretchmer, Paul. Fourteen Steps to Writing an Effective Discussion Section. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  General Rules

These are the general rules you should adopt when composing your discussion of the results :

  • Do not be verbose or repetitive; be concise and make your points clearly
  • Avoid the use of jargon or undefined technical language
  • Follow a logical stream of thought; in general, interpret and discuss the significance of your findings in the same sequence you described them in your results section [a notable exception is to begin by highlighting an unexpected result or a finding that can grab the reader's attention]
  • Use the present verb tense, especially for established facts; however, refer to specific works or prior studies in the past tense
  • If needed, use subheadings to help organize your discussion or to categorize your interpretations into themes

II.  The Content

The content of the discussion section of your paper most often includes :

  • Explanation of results : Comment on whether or not the results were expected for each set of findings; go into greater depth to explain findings that were unexpected or especially profound. If appropriate, note any unusual or unanticipated patterns or trends that emerged from your results and explain their meaning in relation to the research problem.
  • References to previous research : Either compare your results with the findings from other studies or use the studies to support a claim. This can include re-visiting key sources already cited in your literature review section, or, save them to cite later in the discussion section if they are more important to compare with your results instead of being a part of the general literature review of prior research used to provide context and background information. Note that you can make this decision to highlight specific studies after you have begun writing the discussion section.
  • Deduction : A claim for how the results can be applied more generally. For example, describing lessons learned, proposing recommendations that can help improve a situation, or highlighting best practices.
  • Hypothesis : A more general claim or possible conclusion arising from the results [which may be proved or disproved in subsequent research]. This can be framed as new research questions that emerged as a consequence of your analysis.

III.  Organization and Structure

Keep the following sequential points in mind as you organize and write the discussion section of your paper:

  • Think of your discussion as an inverted pyramid. Organize the discussion from the general to the specific, linking your findings to the literature, then to theory, then to practice [if appropriate].
  • Use the same key terms, narrative style, and verb tense [present] that you used when describing the research problem in your introduction.
  • Begin by briefly re-stating the research problem you were investigating and answer all of the research questions underpinning the problem that you posed in the introduction.
  • Describe the patterns, principles, and relationships shown by each major findings and place them in proper perspective. The sequence of this information is important; first state the answer, then the relevant results, then cite the work of others. If appropriate, refer the reader to a figure or table to help enhance the interpretation of the data [either within the text or as an appendix].
  • Regardless of where it's mentioned, a good discussion section includes analysis of any unexpected findings. This part of the discussion should begin with a description of the unanticipated finding, followed by a brief interpretation as to why you believe it appeared and, if necessary, its possible significance in relation to the overall study. If more than one unexpected finding emerged during the study, describe each of them in the order they appeared as you gathered or analyzed the data. As noted, the exception to discussing findings in the same order you described them in the results section would be to begin by highlighting the implications of a particularly unexpected or significant finding that emerged from the study, followed by a discussion of the remaining findings.
  • Before concluding the discussion, identify potential limitations and weaknesses if you do not plan to do so in the conclusion of the paper. Comment on their relative importance in relation to your overall interpretation of the results and, if necessary, note how they may affect the validity of your findings. Avoid using an apologetic tone; however, be honest and self-critical [e.g., in retrospect, had you included a particular question in a survey instrument, additional data could have been revealed].
  • The discussion section should end with a concise summary of the principal implications of the findings regardless of their significance. Give a brief explanation about why you believe the findings and conclusions of your study are important and how they support broader knowledge or understanding of the research problem. This can be followed by any recommendations for further research. However, do not offer recommendations which could have been easily addressed within the study. This would demonstrate to the reader that you have inadequately examined and interpreted the data.

IV.  Overall Objectives

The objectives of your discussion section should include the following: I.  Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings

Briefly reiterate the research problem or problems you are investigating and the methods you used to investigate them, then move quickly to describe the major findings of the study. You should write a direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results, usually in one paragraph.

II.  Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important

No one has thought as long and hard about your study as you have. Systematically explain the underlying meaning of your findings and state why you believe they are significant. After reading the discussion section, you want the reader to think critically about the results and why they are important. You don’t want to force the reader to go through the paper multiple times to figure out what it all means. If applicable, begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most significant or unanticipated finding first, then systematically review each finding. Otherwise, follow the general order you reported the findings presented in the results section.

III.  Relate the Findings to Similar Studies

No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for your research. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps to support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your study differs from other research about the topic. Note that any significant or unanticipated finding is often because there was no prior research to indicate the finding could occur. If there is prior research to indicate this, you need to explain why it was significant or unanticipated. IV.  Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings

It is important to remember that the purpose of research in the social sciences is to discover and not to prove . When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations for the study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. This is especially important when describing the discovery of significant or unanticipated findings.

V.  Acknowledge the Study’s Limitations

It is far better for you to identify and acknowledge your study’s limitations than to have them pointed out by your professor! Note any unanswered questions or issues your study could not address and describe the generalizability of your results to other situations. If a limitation is applicable to the method chosen to gather information, then describe in detail the problems you encountered and why. VI.  Make Suggestions for Further Research

You may choose to conclude the discussion section by making suggestions for further research [as opposed to offering suggestions in the conclusion of your paper]. Although your study can offer important insights about the research problem, this is where you can address other questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or highlight hidden issues that were revealed as a result of conducting your research. You should frame your suggestions by linking the need for further research to the limitations of your study [e.g., in future studies, the survey instrument should include more questions that ask..."] or linking to critical issues revealed from the data that were not considered initially in your research.

NOTE: Besides the literature review section, the preponderance of references to sources is usually found in the discussion section . A few historical references may be helpful for perspective, but most of the references should be relatively recent and included to aid in the interpretation of your results, to support the significance of a finding, and/or to place a finding within a particular context. If a study that you cited does not support your findings, don't ignore it--clearly explain why your research findings differ from theirs.

V.  Problems to Avoid

  • Do not waste time restating your results . Should you need to remind the reader of a finding to be discussed, use "bridge sentences" that relate the result to the interpretation. An example would be: “In the case of determining available housing to single women with children in rural areas of Texas, the findings suggest that access to good schools is important...," then move on to further explaining this finding and its implications.
  • As noted, recommendations for further research can be included in either the discussion or conclusion of your paper, but do not repeat your recommendations in the both sections. Think about the overall narrative flow of your paper to determine where best to locate this information. However, if your findings raise a lot of new questions or issues, consider including suggestions for further research in the discussion section.
  • Do not introduce new results in the discussion section. Be wary of mistaking the reiteration of a specific finding for an interpretation because it may confuse the reader. The description of findings [results section] and the interpretation of their significance [discussion section] should be distinct parts of your paper. If you choose to combine the results section and the discussion section into a single narrative, you must be clear in how you report the information discovered and your own interpretation of each finding. This approach is not recommended if you lack experience writing college-level research papers.
  • Use of the first person pronoun is generally acceptable. Using first person singular pronouns can help emphasize a point or illustrate a contrasting finding. However, keep in mind that too much use of the first person can actually distract the reader from the main points [i.e., I know you're telling me this--just tell me!].

Analyzing vs. Summarizing. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Discussion. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Hess, Dean R. "How to Write an Effective Discussion." Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004); Kretchmer, Paul. Fourteen Steps to Writing to Writing an Effective Discussion Section. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Sauaia, A. et al. "The Anatomy of an Article: The Discussion Section: "How Does the Article I Read Today Change What I Will Recommend to my Patients Tomorrow?” The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 74 (June 2013): 1599-1602; Research Limitations & Future Research . Lund Research Ltd., 2012; Summary: Using it Wisely. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Schafer, Mickey S. Writing the Discussion. Writing in Psychology course syllabus. University of Florida; Yellin, Linda L. A Sociology Writer's Guide . Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2009.

Writing Tip

Don’t Over-Interpret the Results!

Interpretation is a subjective exercise. As such, you should always approach the selection and interpretation of your findings introspectively and to think critically about the possibility of judgmental biases unintentionally entering into discussions about the significance of your work. With this in mind, be careful that you do not read more into the findings than can be supported by the evidence you have gathered. Remember that the data are the data: nothing more, nothing less.

MacCoun, Robert J. "Biases in the Interpretation and Use of Research Results." Annual Review of Psychology 49 (February 1998): 259-287; Ward, Paulet al, editors. The Oxford Handbook of Expertise . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Write Two Results Sections!

One of the most common mistakes that you can make when discussing the results of your study is to present a superficial interpretation of the findings that more or less re-states the results section of your paper. Obviously, you must refer to your results when discussing them, but focus on the interpretation of those results and their significance in relation to the research problem, not the data itself.

Azar, Beth. "Discussing Your Findings."  American Psychological Association gradPSYCH Magazine (January 2006).

Yet Another Writing Tip

Avoid Unwarranted Speculation!

The discussion section should remain focused on the findings of your study. For example, if the purpose of your research was to measure the impact of foreign aid on increasing access to education among disadvantaged children in Bangladesh, it would not be appropriate to speculate about how your findings might apply to populations in other countries without drawing from existing studies to support your claim or if analysis of other countries was not a part of your original research design. If you feel compelled to speculate, do so in the form of describing possible implications or explaining possible impacts. Be certain that you clearly identify your comments as speculation or as a suggestion for where further research is needed. Sometimes your professor will encourage you to expand your discussion of the results in this way, while others don’t care what your opinion is beyond your effort to interpret the data in relation to the research problem.

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How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper

The discussion section of a research paper analyzes and interprets the findings, provides context, compares them with previous studies, identifies limitations, and suggests future research directions.

Updated on September 15, 2023

researchers writing the discussion section of their research paper

Structure your discussion section right, and you’ll be cited more often while doing a greater service to the scientific community. So, what actually goes into the discussion section? And how do you write it?

The discussion section of your research paper is where you let the reader know how your study is positioned in the literature, what to take away from your paper, and how your work helps them. It can also include your conclusions and suggestions for future studies.

First, we’ll define all the parts of your discussion paper, and then look into how to write a strong, effective discussion section for your paper or manuscript.

Discussion section: what is it, what it does

The discussion section comes later in your paper, following the introduction, methods, and results. The discussion sets up your study’s conclusions. Its main goals are to present, interpret, and provide a context for your results.

What is it?

The discussion section provides an analysis and interpretation of the findings, compares them with previous studies, identifies limitations, and suggests future directions for research.

This section combines information from the preceding parts of your paper into a coherent story. By this point, the reader already knows why you did your study (introduction), how you did it (methods), and what happened (results). In the discussion, you’ll help the reader connect the ideas from these sections.

Why is it necessary?

The discussion provides context and interpretations for the results. It also answers the questions posed in the introduction. While the results section describes your findings, the discussion explains what they say. This is also where you can describe the impact or implications of your research.

Adds context for your results

Most research studies aim to answer a question, replicate a finding, or address limitations in the literature. These goals are first described in the introduction. However, in the discussion section, the author can refer back to them to explain how the study's objective was achieved. 

Shows what your results actually mean and real-world implications

The discussion can also describe the effect of your findings on research or practice. How are your results significant for readers, other researchers, or policymakers?

What to include in your discussion (in the correct order)

A complete and effective discussion section should at least touch on the points described below.

Summary of key findings

The discussion should begin with a brief factual summary of the results. Concisely overview the main results you obtained.

Begin with key findings with supporting evidence

Your results section described a list of findings, but what message do they send when you look at them all together?

Your findings were detailed in the results section, so there’s no need to repeat them here, but do provide at least a few highlights. This will help refresh the reader’s memory and help them focus on the big picture.

Read the first paragraph of the discussion section in this article (PDF) for an example of how to start this part of your paper. Notice how the authors break down their results and follow each description sentence with an explanation of why each finding is relevant. 

State clearly and concisely

Following a clear and direct writing style is especially important in the discussion section. After all, this is where you will make some of the most impactful points in your paper. While the results section often contains technical vocabulary, such as statistical terms, the discussion section lets you describe your findings more clearly. 

Interpretation of results

Once you’ve given your reader an overview of your results, you need to interpret those results. In other words, what do your results mean? Discuss the findings’ implications and significance in relation to your research question or hypothesis.

Analyze and interpret your findings

Look into your findings and explore what’s behind them or what may have caused them. If your introduction cited theories or studies that could explain your findings, use these sources as a basis to discuss your results.

For example, look at the second paragraph in the discussion section of this article on waggling honey bees. Here, the authors explore their results based on information from the literature.

Unexpected or contradictory results

Sometimes, your findings are not what you expect. Here’s where you describe this and try to find a reason for it. Could it be because of the method you used? Does it have something to do with the variables analyzed? Comparing your methods with those of other similar studies can help with this task.

Context and comparison with previous work

Refer to related studies to place your research in a larger context and the literature. Compare and contrast your findings with existing literature, highlighting similarities, differences, and/or contradictions.

How your work compares or contrasts with previous work

Studies with similar findings to yours can be cited to show the strength of your findings. Information from these studies can also be used to help explain your results. Differences between your findings and others in the literature can also be discussed here. 

How to divide this section into subsections

If you have more than one objective in your study or many key findings, you can dedicate a separate section to each of these. Here’s an example of this approach. You can see that the discussion section is divided into topics and even has a separate heading for each of them. 


Many journals require you to include the limitations of your study in the discussion. Even if they don’t, there are good reasons to mention these in your paper.

Why limitations don’t have a negative connotation

A study’s limitations are points to be improved upon in future research. While some of these may be flaws in your method, many may be due to factors you couldn’t predict.

Examples include time constraints or small sample sizes. Pointing this out will help future researchers avoid or address these issues. This part of the discussion can also include any attempts you have made to reduce the impact of these limitations, as in this study .

How limitations add to a researcher's credibility

Pointing out the limitations of your study demonstrates transparency. It also shows that you know your methods well and can conduct a critical assessment of them.  

Implications and significance

The final paragraph of the discussion section should contain the take-home messages for your study. It can also cite the “strong points” of your study, to contrast with the limitations section.

Restate your hypothesis

Remind the reader what your hypothesis was before you conducted the study. 

How was it proven or disproven?

Identify your main findings and describe how they relate to your hypothesis.

How your results contribute to the literature

Were you able to answer your research question? Or address a gap in the literature?

Future implications of your research

Describe the impact that your results may have on the topic of study. Your results may show, for instance, that there are still limitations in the literature for future studies to address. There may be a need for studies that extend your findings in a specific way. You also may need additional research to corroborate your findings. 

Sample discussion section

This fictitious example covers all the aspects discussed above. Your actual discussion section will probably be much longer, but you can read this to get an idea of everything your discussion should cover.

Our results showed that the presence of cats in a household is associated with higher levels of perceived happiness by its human occupants. These findings support our hypothesis and demonstrate the association between pet ownership and well-being. 

The present findings align with those of Bao and Schreer (2016) and Hardie et al. (2023), who observed greater life satisfaction in pet owners relative to non-owners. Although the present study did not directly evaluate life satisfaction, this factor may explain the association between happiness and cat ownership observed in our sample.

Our findings must be interpreted in light of some limitations, such as the focus on cat ownership only rather than pets as a whole. This may limit the generalizability of our results.

Nevertheless, this study had several strengths. These include its strict exclusion criteria and use of a standardized assessment instrument to investigate the relationships between pets and owners. These attributes bolster the accuracy of our results and reduce the influence of confounding factors, increasing the strength of our conclusions. Future studies may examine the factors that mediate the association between pet ownership and happiness to better comprehend this phenomenon.

This brief discussion begins with a quick summary of the results and hypothesis. The next paragraph cites previous research and compares its findings to those of this study. Information from previous studies is also used to help interpret the findings. After discussing the results of the study, some limitations are pointed out. The paper also explains why these limitations may influence the interpretation of results. Then, final conclusions are drawn based on the study, and directions for future research are suggested.

How to make your discussion flow naturally

If you find writing in scientific English challenging, the discussion and conclusions are often the hardest parts of the paper to write. That’s because you’re not just listing up studies, methods, and outcomes. You’re actually expressing your thoughts and interpretations in words.

  • How formal should it be?
  • What words should you use, or not use?
  • How do you meet strict word limits, or make it longer and more informative?

Always give it your best, but sometimes a helping hand can, well, help. Getting a professional edit can help clarify your work’s importance while improving the English used to explain it. When readers know the value of your work, they’ll cite it. We’ll assign your study to an expert editor knowledgeable in your area of research. Their work will clarify your discussion, helping it to tell your story. Find out more about AJE Editing.

Adam Goulston, Science Marketing Consultant, PsyD, Human and Organizational Behavior, Scize

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How to Write the Results/Findings Section in Research

discuss the findings of the research

What is the research paper Results section and what does it do?

The Results section of a scientific research paper represents the core findings of a study derived from the methods applied to gather and analyze information. It presents these findings in a logical sequence without bias or interpretation from the author, setting up the reader for later interpretation and evaluation in the Discussion section. A major purpose of the Results section is to break down the data into sentences that show its significance to the research question(s).

The Results section appears third in the section sequence in most scientific papers. It follows the presentation of the Methods and Materials and is presented before the Discussion section —although the Results and Discussion are presented together in many journals. This section answers the basic question “What did you find in your research?”

What is included in the Results section?

The Results section should include the findings of your study and ONLY the findings of your study. The findings include:

  • Data presented in tables, charts, graphs, and other figures (may be placed into the text or on separate pages at the end of the manuscript)
  • A contextual analysis of this data explaining its meaning in sentence form
  • All data that corresponds to the central research question(s)
  • All secondary findings (secondary outcomes, subgroup analyses, etc.)

If the scope of the study is broad, or if you studied a variety of variables, or if the methodology used yields a wide range of different results, the author should present only those results that are most relevant to the research question stated in the Introduction section .

As a general rule, any information that does not present the direct findings or outcome of the study should be left out of this section. Unless the journal requests that authors combine the Results and Discussion sections, explanations and interpretations should be omitted from the Results.

How are the results organized?

The best way to organize your Results section is “logically.” One logical and clear method of organizing research results is to provide them alongside the research questions—within each research question, present the type of data that addresses that research question.

Let’s look at an example. Your research question is based on a survey among patients who were treated at a hospital and received postoperative care. Let’s say your first research question is:

results section of a research paper, figures

“What do hospital patients over age 55 think about postoperative care?”

This can actually be represented as a heading within your Results section, though it might be presented as a statement rather than a question:

Attitudes towards postoperative care in patients over the age of 55

Now present the results that address this specific research question first. In this case, perhaps a table illustrating data from a survey. Likert items can be included in this example. Tables can also present standard deviations, probabilities, correlation matrices, etc.

Following this, present a content analysis, in words, of one end of the spectrum of the survey or data table. In our example case, start with the POSITIVE survey responses regarding postoperative care, using descriptive phrases. For example:

“Sixty-five percent of patients over 55 responded positively to the question “ Are you satisfied with your hospital’s postoperative care ?” (Fig. 2)

Include other results such as subcategory analyses. The amount of textual description used will depend on how much interpretation of tables and figures is necessary and how many examples the reader needs in order to understand the significance of your research findings.

Next, present a content analysis of another part of the spectrum of the same research question, perhaps the NEGATIVE or NEUTRAL responses to the survey. For instance:

  “As Figure 1 shows, 15 out of 60 patients in Group A responded negatively to Question 2.”

After you have assessed the data in one figure and explained it sufficiently, move on to your next research question. For example:

  “How does patient satisfaction correspond to in-hospital improvements made to postoperative care?”

results section of a research paper, figures

This kind of data may be presented through a figure or set of figures (for instance, a paired T-test table).

Explain the data you present, here in a table, with a concise content analysis:

“The p-value for the comparison between the before and after groups of patients was .03% (Fig. 2), indicating that the greater the dissatisfaction among patients, the more frequent the improvements that were made to postoperative care.”

Let’s examine another example of a Results section from a study on plant tolerance to heavy metal stress . In the Introduction section, the aims of the study are presented as “determining the physiological and morphological responses of Allium cepa L. towards increased cadmium toxicity” and “evaluating its potential to accumulate the metal and its associated environmental consequences.” The Results section presents data showing how these aims are achieved in tables alongside a content analysis, beginning with an overview of the findings:

“Cadmium caused inhibition of root and leave elongation, with increasing effects at higher exposure doses (Fig. 1a-c).”

The figure containing this data is cited in parentheses. Note that this author has combined three graphs into one single figure. Separating the data into separate graphs focusing on specific aspects makes it easier for the reader to assess the findings, and consolidating this information into one figure saves space and makes it easy to locate the most relevant results.

results section of a research paper, figures

Following this overall summary, the relevant data in the tables is broken down into greater detail in text form in the Results section.

  • “Results on the bio-accumulation of cadmium were found to be the highest (17.5 mg kgG1) in the bulb, when the concentration of cadmium in the solution was 1×10G2 M and lowest (0.11 mg kgG1) in the leaves when the concentration was 1×10G3 M.”

Captioning and Referencing Tables and Figures

Tables and figures are central components of your Results section and you need to carefully think about the most effective way to use graphs and tables to present your findings . Therefore, it is crucial to know how to write strong figure captions and to refer to them within the text of the Results section.

The most important advice one can give here as well as throughout the paper is to check the requirements and standards of the journal to which you are submitting your work. Every journal has its own design and layout standards, which you can find in the author instructions on the target journal’s website. Perusing a journal’s published articles will also give you an idea of the proper number, size, and complexity of your figures.

Regardless of which format you use, the figures should be placed in the order they are referenced in the Results section and be as clear and easy to understand as possible. If there are multiple variables being considered (within one or more research questions), it can be a good idea to split these up into separate figures. Subsequently, these can be referenced and analyzed under separate headings and paragraphs in the text.

To create a caption, consider the research question being asked and change it into a phrase. For instance, if one question is “Which color did participants choose?”, the caption might be “Color choice by participant group.” Or in our last research paper example, where the question was “What is the concentration of cadmium in different parts of the onion after 14 days?” the caption reads:

 “Fig. 1(a-c): Mean concentration of Cd determined in (a) bulbs, (b) leaves, and (c) roots of onions after a 14-day period.”

Steps for Composing the Results Section

Because each study is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to designing a strategy for structuring and writing the section of a research paper where findings are presented. The content and layout of this section will be determined by the specific area of research, the design of the study and its particular methodologies, and the guidelines of the target journal and its editors. However, the following steps can be used to compose the results of most scientific research studies and are essential for researchers who are new to preparing a manuscript for publication or who need a reminder of how to construct the Results section.

Step 1 : Consult the guidelines or instructions that the target journal or publisher provides authors and read research papers it has published, especially those with similar topics, methods, or results to your study.

  • The guidelines will generally outline specific requirements for the results or findings section, and the published articles will provide sound examples of successful approaches.
  • Note length limitations on restrictions on content. For instance, while many journals require the Results and Discussion sections to be separate, others do not—qualitative research papers often include results and interpretations in the same section (“Results and Discussion”).
  • Reading the aims and scope in the journal’s “ guide for authors ” section and understanding the interests of its readers will be invaluable in preparing to write the Results section.

Step 2 : Consider your research results in relation to the journal’s requirements and catalogue your results.

  • Focus on experimental results and other findings that are especially relevant to your research questions and objectives and include them even if they are unexpected or do not support your ideas and hypotheses.
  • Catalogue your findings—use subheadings to streamline and clarify your report. This will help you avoid excessive and peripheral details as you write and also help your reader understand and remember your findings. Create appendices that might interest specialists but prove too long or distracting for other readers.
  • Decide how you will structure of your results. You might match the order of the research questions and hypotheses to your results, or you could arrange them according to the order presented in the Methods section. A chronological order or even a hierarchy of importance or meaningful grouping of main themes or categories might prove effective. Consider your audience, evidence, and most importantly, the objectives of your research when choosing a structure for presenting your findings.

Step 3 : Design figures and tables to present and illustrate your data.

  • Tables and figures should be numbered according to the order in which they are mentioned in the main text of the paper.
  • Information in figures should be relatively self-explanatory (with the aid of captions), and their design should include all definitions and other information necessary for readers to understand the findings without reading all of the text.
  • Use tables and figures as a focal point to tell a clear and informative story about your research and avoid repeating information. But remember that while figures clarify and enhance the text, they cannot replace it.

Step 4 : Draft your Results section using the findings and figures you have organized.

  • The goal is to communicate this complex information as clearly and precisely as possible; precise and compact phrases and sentences are most effective.
  • In the opening paragraph of this section, restate your research questions or aims to focus the reader’s attention to what the results are trying to show. It is also a good idea to summarize key findings at the end of this section to create a logical transition to the interpretation and discussion that follows.
  • Try to write in the past tense and the active voice to relay the findings since the research has already been done and the agent is usually clear. This will ensure that your explanations are also clear and logical.
  • Make sure that any specialized terminology or abbreviation you have used here has been defined and clarified in the  Introduction section .

Step 5 : Review your draft; edit and revise until it reports results exactly as you would like to have them reported to your readers.

  • Double-check the accuracy and consistency of all the data, as well as all of the visual elements included.
  • Read your draft aloud to catch language errors (grammar, spelling, and mechanics), awkward phrases, and missing transitions.
  • Ensure that your results are presented in the best order to focus on objectives and prepare readers for interpretations, valuations, and recommendations in the Discussion section . Look back over the paper’s Introduction and background while anticipating the Discussion and Conclusion sections to ensure that the presentation of your results is consistent and effective.
  • Consider seeking additional guidance on your paper. Find additional readers to look over your Results section and see if it can be improved in any way. Peers, professors, or qualified experts can provide valuable insights.

One excellent option is to use a professional English proofreading and editing service  such as Wordvice, including our paper editing service . With hundreds of qualified editors from dozens of scientific fields, Wordvice has helped thousands of authors revise their manuscripts and get accepted into their target journals. Read more about the  proofreading and editing process  before proceeding with getting academic editing services and manuscript editing services for your manuscript.

As the representation of your study’s data output, the Results section presents the core information in your research paper. By writing with clarity and conciseness and by highlighting and explaining the crucial findings of their study, authors increase the impact and effectiveness of their research manuscripts.

For more articles and videos on writing your research manuscript, visit Wordvice’s Resources page.

Wordvice Resources

  • How to Write a Research Paper Introduction 
  • Which Verb Tenses to Use in a Research Paper
  • How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper
  • How to Write a Research Paper Title
  • Useful Phrases for Academic Writing
  • Common Transition Terms in Academic Papers
  • Active and Passive Voice in Research Papers
  • 100+ Verbs That Will Make Your Research Writing Amazing
  • Tips for Paraphrasing in Research Papers

University of Northern Iowa Home

  • Chapter Seven: Presenting Your Results

This chapter serves as the culmination of the previous chapters, in that it focuses on how to present the results of one's study, regardless of the choice made among the three methods. Writing in academics has a form and style that you will want to apply not only to report your own research, but also to enhance your skills at reading original research published in academic journals. Beyond the basic academic style of report writing, there are specific, often unwritten assumptions about how quantitative, qualitative, and critical/rhetorical studies should be organized and the information they should contain. This chapter discusses how to present your results in writing, how to write accessibly, how to visualize data, and how to present your results in person.  

  • Chapter One: Introduction
  • Chapter Two: Understanding the distinctions among research methods
  • Chapter Three: Ethical research, writing, and creative work
  • Chapter Four: Quantitative Methods (Part 1)
  • Chapter Four: Quantitative Methods (Part 2 - Doing Your Study)
  • Chapter Four: Quantitative Methods (Part 3 - Making Sense of Your Study)
  • Chapter Five: Qualitative Methods (Part 1)
  • Chapter Five: Qualitative Data (Part 2)
  • Chapter Six: Critical / Rhetorical Methods (Part 1)
  • Chapter Six: Critical / Rhetorical Methods (Part 2)

Written Presentation of Results

Once you've gone through the process of doing communication research – using a quantitative, qualitative, or critical/rhetorical methodological approach – the final step is to  communicate  it.

The major style manuals (the APA Manual, the MLA Handbook, and Turabian) are very helpful in documenting the structure of writing a study, and are highly recommended for consultation. But, no matter what style manual you may use, there are some common elements to the structure of an academic communication research paper.

Title Page :

This is simple: Your Paper's Title, Your Name, Your Institutional Affiliation (e.g., University), and the Date, each on separate lines, centered on the page. Try to make your title both descriptive (i.e., it gives the reader an idea what the study is about) and interesting (i.e., it is catchy enough to get one's attention).

For example, the title, "The uncritical idealization of a compensated psychopath character in a popular book series," would not be an inaccurate title for a published study, but it is rather vague and exceedingly boring. That study's author fortunately chose the title, "A boyfriend to die for: Edward Cullen as compensated psychopath in Stephanie Meyer's  Twilight ," which is more precisely descriptive, and much more interesting (Merskin, 2011). The use of the colon in academic titles can help authors accomplish both objectives: a catchy but relevant phrase, followed by a more clear explanation of the article's topic.

In some instances, you might be asked to write an abstract, which is a summary of your paper that can range in length from 75 to 250 words. If it is a published paper, it is useful to include key search terms in this brief description of the paper (the title may already have a few of these terms as well). Although this may be the last thing your write, make it one of the best things you write, because this may be the first thing your audience reads about the paper (and may be the only thing read if it is written badly). Summarize the problem/research question, your methodological approach, your results and conclusions, and the significance of the paper in the abstract.

Quantitative and qualitative studies will most typically use the rest of the section titles noted below. Critical/rhetorical studies will include many of the same steps, but will often have different headings. For example, a critical/rhetorical paper will have an introduction, definition of terms, and literature review, followed by an analysis (often divided into sections by areas of investigation) and ending with a conclusion/implications section. Because critical/rhetorical research is much more descriptive, the subheadings in such a paper are often times not generic subheads like "literature review," but instead descriptive subheadings that apply to the topic at hand, as seen in the schematic below. Because many journals expect the article to follow typical research paper headings of introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion, we discuss these sections briefly next.

Image removed.


As you read social scientific journals (see chapter 1 for examples), you will find that they tend to get into the research question quickly and succinctly. Journal articles from the humanities tradition tend to be more descriptive in the introduction. But, in either case, it is good to begin with some kind of brief anecdote that gets the reader engaged in your work and lets the reader understand why this is an interesting topic. From that point, state your research question, define the problem (see Chapter One) with an overview of what we do and don't know, and finally state what you will do, or what you want to find out. The introduction thus builds the case for your topic, and is the beginning of building your argument, as we noted in chapter 1.

By the end of the Introduction, the reader should know what your topic is, why it is a significant communication topic, and why it is necessary that you investigate it (e.g., it could be there is gap in literature, you will conduct valuable exploratory research, or you will provide a new model for solving some professional or social problem).

Literature Review:

The literature review summarizes and organizes the relevant books, articles, and other research in this area. It sets up both quantitative and qualitative studies, showing the need for the study. For critical/rhetorical research, the literature review often incorporates the description of the historical context and heuristic vocabulary, with key terms defined in this section of the paper. For more detail on writing a literature review, see Appendix 1.

The methods of your paper are the processes that govern your research, where the researcher explains what s/he did to solve the problem. As you have seen throughout this book, in communication studies, there are a number of different types of research methods. For example, in quantitative research, one might conduct surveys, experiments, or content analysis. In qualitative research, one might instead use interviews and observations. Critical/rhetorical studies methods are more about the interpretation of texts or the study of popular culture as communication. In creative communication research, the method may be an interpretive performance studies or filmmaking. Other methods used sometimes alone, or in combination with other methods, include legal research, historical research, and political economy research.

In quantitative and qualitative research papers, the methods will be most likely described according to the APA manual standards. At the very least, the methods will include a description of participants, data collection, and data analysis, with specific details on each of these elements. For example, in an experiment, the researcher will describe the number of participants, the materials used, the design of the experiment, the procedure of the experiment, and what statistics will be used to address the hypotheses/research questions.

Critical/rhetorical researchers rarely have a specific section called "methods," as opposed to quantitative and qualitative researchers, but rather demonstrate the method they use for analysis throughout the writing of their piece.

Helping your reader understand the methods you used for your study is important not only for your own study's credibility, but also for possible replication of your study by other researchers. A good guideline to keep in mind is  transparency . You want to be as clear as possible in describing the decisions you made in designing your study, gathering and analyzing your data so that the reader can retrace your steps and understand how you came to the conclusions you formed. A research study can be very good, but if it is not clearly described so that others can see how the results were determined or obtained, then the quality of the study and its potential contributions are lost.

After you completed your study, your findings will be listed in the results section. Particularly in a quantitative study, the results section is for revisiting your hypotheses and reporting whether or not your results supported them, and the statistical significance of the results. Whether your study supported or contradicted your hypotheses, it's always helpful to fully report what your results were. The researcher usually organizes the results of his/her results section by research question or hypothesis, stating the results for each one, using statistics to show how the research question or hypothesis was answered in the study.

The qualitative results section also may be organized by research question, but usually is organized by themes which emerged from the data collected. The researcher provides rich details from her/his observations and interviews, with detailed quotations provided to illustrate the themes identified. Sometimes the results section is combined with the discussion section.

Critical/rhetorical researchers would include their analysis often with different subheadings in what would be considered a "results" section, yet not labeled specifically this way.


In the discussion section, the researcher gives an appraisal of the results. Here is where the researcher considers the results, particularly in light of the literature review, and explains what the findings mean. If the results confirmed or corresponded with the findings of other literature, then that should be stated. If the results didn't support the findings of previous studies, then the researcher should develop an explanation of why the study turned out this way. Sometimes, this section is called a "conclusion" by researchers.


In this section, all of the literature cited in the text should have full references in alphabetical order. Appendices: Appendix material includes items like questionnaires used in the study, photographs, documents, etc. An alphabetical letter is assigned for each piece (e.g. Appendix A, Appendix B), with a second line of title describing what the appendix contains (e.g. Participant Informed Consent, or  New York Times  Speech Coverage). They should be organized consistently with the order in which they are referenced in the text of the paper. The page numbers for appendices are consecutive with the paper and reference list.


Tables and figures are referenced in the text, but included at the end of the study and numbered consecutively. (Check with your professor; some like to have tables and figures inserted within the paper's main text.) Tables generally are data in a table format, whereas figures are diagrams (such as a pie chart) and drawings (such as a flow chart).

Accessible Writing

As you may have noticed, academic writing does have a language (e.g., words like heuristic vocabulary and hypotheses) and style (e.g., literature reviews) all its own. It is important to engage in that language and style, and understand how to use it to  communicate effectively in an academic context . Yet, it is also important to remember that your analyses and findings should also be written to be accessible. Writers should avoid excessive jargon, or—even worse—deploying jargon to mask an incomplete understanding of a topic.

The scourge of excessive jargon in academic writing was the target of a famous hoax in 1996. A New York University physics professor submitted an article, " Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity ," to a special issue of the academic journal  Social Text  devoted to science and postmodernism. The article was designed to point out how dense academic jargon can sometimes mask sloppy thinking. As the professor, Alan Sokal, had expected, the article was published. One sample sentence from the article reads:

It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical "reality", no less than social "reality", is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific "knowledge", far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it; that the truth claims of science are inherently theory-laden and self-referential; and consequently, that the discourse of the scientific community, for all its undeniable value, cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counter-hegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities. (Sokal, 1996. pp. 217-218)

According to the journal's editor, about six reviewers had read the article but didn't suspect that it was phony. A public debate ensued after Sokal revealed his hoax. Sokal said he worried that jargon and intellectual fads cause academics to lose contact with the real world and "undermine the prospect for progressive social critique" ( Scott, 1996 ). The APA Manual recommends to avoid using technical vocabulary where it is not needed or relevant or if the technical language is overused, thus becoming jargon. In short, the APA argues that "scientific jargon...grates on the reader, encumbers the communication of information, and wastes space" (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 68).

Data Visualization

Images and words have long existed on the printed page of manuscripts, yet, until recently, relatively few researchers possessed the resources to effectively combine images combined with words (Tufte, 1990, 1983). Communication scholars are only now becoming aware of this dimension in research as computer technologies have made it possible for many people to produce and publish multimedia presentations.

Although visuals may seem to be anathema to the primacy of the written word in research, they are a legitimate way, and at times the best way, to present ideas. Visual scholar Lester Faigley et al. (2004) explains how data visualizations have become part of our daily lives:

Visualizations can shed light on research as well. London-based David McCandless specializes in visualizing interesting research questions, or in his words "the questions I wanted answering" (2009, p. 7). His images include a graph of the  peak times of the year for breakups  (based on Facebook status updates), a  radiation dosage chart , and some  experiments with the Google Ngram Viewer , which charts the appearance of keywords in millions of books over hundreds of years.

The  public domain image  below creatively maps U.S. Census data of the outflow of people from California to other states between 1995 and 2000.

Image removed.

Visualizing one's research is possible in multiple ways. A simple technology, for example, is to enter data into a spreadsheet such as Excel, and select  Charts  or  SmartArt  to generate graphics. A number of free web tools can also transform raw data into useful charts and graphs.  Many Eyes , an open source data visualization tool (sponsored by IBM Research), says its goal "is to 'democratize' visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis" (IBM, 2011). Another tool,  Soundslides , enables users to import images and audio to create a photographic slideshow, while the program handles all of the background code. Other tools, often open source and free, can help visual academic research into interactive maps; interactive, image-based timelines; interactive charts; and simple 2-D and 3-D animations. Adobe Creative Suite (which includes popular software like Photoshop) is available on most computers at universities, but open source alternatives exist as well.  Gimp  is comparable to Photoshop, and it is free and relatively easy to use.

One online performance studies journal,  Liminalities , is an excellent example of how "research" can be more than just printed words. In each issue, traditional academic essays and book reviews are often supported photographs, while other parts of an issue can include video, audio, and multimedia contributions. The journal, founded in 2005, treats performance itself as a methodology, and accepts contribution in html, mp3, Quicktime, and Flash formats.

For communication researchers, there is also a vast array of visual digital archives available online. Many of these archives are located at colleges and universities around the world, where digital librarians are spearheading a massive effort to make information—print, audio, visual, and graphic—available to the public as part of a global information commons. For example, the University of Iowa has a considerable digital archive including historical photos documenting American railroads and a database of images related to geoscience. The University of Northern Iowa has a growing Special Collections Unit that includes digital images of every UNI Yearbook between 1905 and 1923 and audio files of UNI jazz band performances. Researchers at he University of Michigan developed  OAIster , a rich database that has joined thousands of digital archives in one searchable interface. Indeed, virtually every academic library is now digitizing all types of media, not just texts, and making them available for public viewing and, when possible, for use in presenting research. In addition to academic collections, the  Library of Congress  and the  National Archives  offer an ever-expanding range of downloadable media; commercial, user-generated databases such as Flickr, Buzznet, YouTube and Google Video offer a rich resource of images that are often free of copyright constraints (see Chapter 3 about Creative Commons licenses) and nonprofit endeavors, such as the  Internet Archive , contain a formidable collection of moving images, still photographs, audio files (including concert recordings), and open source software.

Presenting your Work in Person

As Communication students, it's expected that you are not only able to communicate your research project in written form but also in person.

Before you do any oral presentation, it's good to have a brief "pitch" ready for anyone who asks you about your research. The pitch is routine in Hollywood: a screenwriter has just a few minutes to present an idea to a producer. Although your pitch will be more sophisticated than, say, " Snakes on a Plane " (which unfortunately was made into a movie), you should in just a few lines be able to explain the gist of your research to anyone who asks. Developing this concise description, you will have some practice in distilling what might be a complicated topic into one others can quickly grasp.

Oral presentation

In most oral presentations of research, whether at the end of a semester, or at a research symposium or conference, you will likely have just 10 to 20 minutes. This is probably not enough time to read the entire paper aloud, which is not what you should do anyway if you want people to really listen (although, unfortunately some make this mistake). Instead, the point of the presentation should be to present your research in an interesting manner so the listeners will want to read the whole thing. In the presentation, spend the least amount of time on the literature review (a very brief summary will suffice) and the most on your own original contribution. In fact, you may tell your audience that you are only presenting on one portion of the paper, and that you would be happy to talk more about your research and findings in the question and answer session that typically follows. Consider your presentation the beginning of a dialogue between you and the audience. Your tone shouldn't be "I have found everything important there is to find, and I will cram as much as I can into this presentation," but instead "I found some things you will find interesting, but I realize there is more to find."

Turabian (2007) has a helpful chapter on presenting research. Most important, she emphasizes, is to remember that your audience members are listeners, not readers. Thus, recall the lessons on speech making in your college oral communication class. Give an introduction, tell them what the problem is, and map out what you will present to them. Organize your findings into a few points, and don't get bogged down in minutiae. (The minutiae are for readers to find if they wish, not for listeners to struggle through.) PowerPoint slides are acceptable, but don't read them. Instead, create an outline of a few main points, and practice your presentation.

Turabian  suggests an introduction of not more than three minutes, which should include these elements:

  • The research topic you will address (not more than a minute).
  • Your research question (30 seconds or less)
  • An answer to "so what?" – explaining the relevance of your research (30 seconds)
  • Your claim, or argument (30 seconds or less)
  • The map of your presentation structure (30 seconds or less)

As Turabian (2007) suggests, "Rehearse your introduction, not only to get it right, but to be able to look your audience in the eye as you give it. You can look down at notes later" (p. 125).

Poster presentation

In some symposiums and conferences, you may be asked to present at a "poster" session. Instead of presenting on a panel of 4-5 people to an audience, a poster presenter is with others in a large hall or room, and talks one-on-one with visitors who look at the visual poster display of the research. As in an oral presentation, a poster highlights just the main point of the paper. Then, if visitors have questions, the author can informally discuss her/his findings.

To attract attention, poster presentations need to be nicely designed, or in the words of an advertising professor who schedules poster sessions at conferences, "be big, bold, and brief" ( Broyles , 2011). Large type (at least 18 pt.), graphics, tables, and photos are recommended.

Image removed.

A poster presentation session at a conference, by David Eppstein (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons]

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) has a  template for making an effective poster presentation . Many universities, copy shops, and Internet services also have large-scale printers, to print full-color research poster designs that can be rolled up and transported in a tube.

Judging Others' Research

After taking this course, you should have a basic knowledge of research methods. There will still be some things that may mystify you as a reader of other's research. For example, you may not be able to interpret the coefficients for statistical significance, or make sense of a complex structural equation. Some specialized vocabulary may still be difficult.

But, you should understand how to critically review research. For example, imagine you have been asked to do a blind (i.e., the author's identity is concealed) "peer review" of communication research for acceptance to a conference, or publication in an academic journal. For most  conferences  and  journals , submissions are made online, where editors can manage the flow and assign reviews to papers. The evaluations reviewers make are based on the same things that we have covered in this book. For example, the conference for the AEJMC ask reviewers to consider (on a five-point scale, from Excellent to Poor) a number of familiar research dimensions, including the paper's clarity of purpose, literature review, clarity of research method, appropriateness of research method, evidence presented clearly, evidence supportive of conclusions, general writing and organization, and the significance of the contribution to the field.

Beyond academia, it is likely you will more frequently apply the lessons of research methods as a critical consumer of news, politics, and everyday life. Just because some expert cites a number or presents a conclusion doesn't mean it's automatically true. John Allen Paulos, in his book  A Mathematician reads the newspaper , suggests some basic questions we can ask. "If statistics were presented, how were they obtained? How confident can we be of them? Were they derived from a random sample or from a collection of anecdotes? Does the correlation suggest a causal relationship, or is it merely a coincidence?" (1997, p. 201).

Through the study of research methods, we have begun to build a critical vocabulary and understanding to ask good questions when others present "knowledge." For example, if Candidate X won a straw poll in Iowa, does that mean she'll get her party's nomination? If Candidate Y wins an open primary in New Hampshire, does that mean he'll be the next president? If Candidate Z sheds a tear, does it matter what the context is, or whether that candidate is a man or a woman? What we learn in research methods about validity, reliability, sampling, variables, research participants, epistemology, grounded theory, and rhetoric, we can consider whether the "knowledge" that is presented in the news is a verifiable fact, a sound argument, or just conjecture.

American Psychological Association (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Broyles, S. (2011). "About poster sessions." AEJMC.  http://www.aejmc.org/home/2013/01/about-poster-sessions/ .

Faigley, L., George, D., Palchik, A., Selfe, C. (2004).  Picturing texts . New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

IBM (2011). Overview of Many Eyes.  http://www.research.ibm.com/social/projects_manyeyes.shtml .

McCandless, D. (2009).  The visual miscellaneum . New York: Collins Design.

Merskin, D. (2011). A boyfriend to die for: Edward Cullen as compensated psychopath in Stephanie Meyer's  Twilight. Journal of Communication Inquiry  35: 157-178. doi:10.1177/0196859911402992

Paulos, J. A. (1997).  A mathematician reads the newspaper . New York: Anchor.

Scott, J. (1996, May 18). Postmodern gravity deconstructed, slyly.  New York Times , http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/15/specials/sokal-text.html .

Sokal, A. (1996). Transgressing the boundaries: towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity.  Social Text  46/47, 217-252.

Tufte, E. R. (1990).  Envisioning information . Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

Tufte, E. R. (1983).  The visual display of quantitative information . Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

Turabian, Kate L. (2007).  A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations: Chicago style guide for students and researchers  (7th ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Degree In Sight

Discussing your findings

Your dissertation's discussion should tell a story, say experts. What do your data say?

By Beth Azar

"Many students reach this stage of their careers having been focused for several years on the 'trees,'" says Yale University cognitive psychology professor Brian Scholl, PhD. "This section of the dissertation provides an opportunity to revisit the 'forest.'"

Fellow students, your adviser and your dissertation committee members can help provide that outside perspective, adds Yale clinical psychology professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, who teaches a course on writing in psychology.

And while the discussion should put your research into context and tell a story, say experts, it should not overstate your conclusions. How do you find the balance? Follow these do's and don'ts.

DO: Provide context and explain why people should care. DON'T: Simply rehash your results.

Your discussion should begin with a cogent, one-paragraph summary of the study's key findings, but then go beyond that to put the findings into context, says Stephen Hinshaw, PhD, chair of the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley.

"The point of a discussion, in my view, is to transcend 'just the facts,' and engage in productive speculation," he says.

That means going back to the literature and grappling with what your findings mean, including how they fit in with previous work. If your results differ from others' findings, you should try to explain why, says Nolen-Hoeksema. Then, launch into "bigger picture" issues. For example, a clinical study might discuss how psychologists might apply the findings in a clinical setting or a social psychology project might talk about political implications.

By exploring those kinds of implications, students address what Scholl considers the most important-and often overlooked-purpose of the discussion: to directly explain why others should care about your findings.

"You can't and shouldn't rely on others to intuitively appreciate the beauty and importance of your work," he says.

Sounds simple, right? In fact, choosing what to include can be overwhelming, warns sixth-year Yale University social psychology graduate student Aaron Sackett.

"It is easy to get caught up in the desire to be extremely comprehensive and to bring up every potential issue, flaw, future direction and tangentially related concept," says Sackett. "However, this will make your dissertation seem like it has raised more questions than it answers."

Limit your discussion to a handful of the most important points, as Sackett did on the advice of his adviser.

"No reader wants to wade through ten pages of suppositional reasoning," says Roddy Roediger, PhD, chair of psychology at Washington University.

DO: Emphasize the positive. DON'T: Exaggerate.

One of the biggest errors students make in their discussion is exaggeration, say experts. Speculation is fine as long as you acknowledge that you're speculating and you don't stray too far from your data, say experts. That includes avoiding language that implies causality when your study can only make relational conclusions.

"If your study was not a true experiment, replace verbs that imply causation with words and phrases such as 'correlated with,' 'was associated with' and 'related to,'" write John Cone, PhD, and Sharon Foster, PhD, in a forthcoming revision of "Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish" (APA, 2006).

Steven David, PhD, who successfully defended his dissertation in clinical geropsychology at the University of Southern California last May, found this point to be particularly difficult. When he defended his master's thesis, his committee told him his conclusions went too far out on a limb. He used more restraint with his dissertation and his committee thought he wasn't positive enough.

"The moral here is to try to find a balance where you set a tone that indeed celebrates interesting findings without too many leaps, while at the same time reporting limitations without being unnecessarily negative," says David.

Indeed, every discussion should include a "humility" section that addresses the study's limitations, write Cone and Foster. But avoid beginning the discussion with a long list of study limitations, says Nolen-Hoeksema.

"This makes me think 'Then why should I care or believe anything you found,' and want to stop reading right there," she says. "Limitations should be noted, but after you've discussed your positive results."

DO: Look toward the future. DON'T: End with it.

Along with noting your work's limitations, it's helpful to also suggest follow-up studies. But don't dwell on the future at the expense of the present,says Scholl.

"I think that too many discussions make the mistake of ending with 'the future,'" he says. "Too often I am left excited not by what was in the dissertation, but by what was not in the dissertation."

Roediger agrees: "Conclude the general discussion with a strong paragraph stating the main point or points again, in somewhat different terms-if possible-than used before."

Remember, adds Scholl, you want readers to remember you and your work. The discussion section is the place to leave your mark. So instead of simply summarizing your data and suggesting a few obvious follow-up studies, think about presenting your data in a novel way, showing how the work might resolve an existing controversy in the literature or explaining how it connects to an entirely different literature.

By the time readers get to your discussion, they're tired, adds Sackett. Give them something clear, concise and interesting to read, and they're sure to appreciate it.

Beth Azar is a writer in Portland, Ore.

10 most common dissertation discussion mistakes

Starting with limitations instead of implications.

Going overboard on limitations, leading readers to wonder why they should read on.

Failing to acknowledge limitations or dismissing them out of hand. 

Making strong claims about weak results.

Failing to differentiate between strong and weak results as you make conclusions about them.

Lapsing into causal language when your data were correlational.

Repeating the introduction.

Restating the results without interpretation or links to other research.

Presenting new results; such data belong in the results section.

Offering no concluding statements or ending with the limitations.

Source: Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, Yale University

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How To Write the Findings Section of a Research Paper

Posted by Rene Tetzner | Sep 2, 2021 | Paper Writing Advice | 0 |

How To Write the Findings Section of a Research Paper

How To Write the Findings Section of a Research Paper Each research project is unique, so it is natural for one researcher to make use of somewhat different strategies than another when it comes to designing and writing the section of a research paper dedicated to findings. The academic or scientific discipline of the research, the field of specialisation, the particular author or authors, the targeted journal or other publisher and the editor making the decisions about publication can all have a significant impact. The practical steps outlined below can be effectively applied to writing about the findings of most advanced research, however, and will prove especially helpful for early-career scholars who are preparing a research paper for a first publication.

discuss the findings of the research

Step 1 : Consult the guidelines or instructions that the targeted journal (or other publisher) provides for authors and read research papers it has already published, particularly ones similar in topic, methods or results to your own. The guidelines will generally outline specific requirements for the results or findings section, and the published articles will provide sound examples of successful approaches. Watch particularly for length limitations and restrictions on content. Interpretation, for instance, is usually reserved for a later discussion section, though not always – qualitative research papers often combine findings and interpretation. Background information and descriptions of methods, on the other hand, almost always appear in earlier sections of a research paper. In most cases it is appropriate in a findings section to offer basic comparisons between the results of your study and those of other studies, but knowing exactly what the journal wants in the report of research findings is essential. Learning as much as you can about the journal’s aims and scope as well as the interests of its readers is invaluable as well.

discuss the findings of the research

Step 2 : Reflect at some length on your research results in relation to the journal’s requirements while planning the findings section of your paper. Choose for particular focus experimental results and other research discoveries that are particularly relevant to your research questions and objectives, and include them even if they are unexpected or do not support your ideas and hypotheses. Streamline and clarify your report, especially if it is long and complex, by using subheadings that will help you avoid excessive and peripheral details as you write and also help your reader understand and remember your findings. Consider appendices for raw data that might interest specialists but prove too long or distracting for other readers. The opening paragraph of a findings section often restates research questions or aims to refocus the reader’s attention, and it is always wise to summarise key findings at the end of the section, providing a smooth intellectual transition to the interpretation and discussion that follows in most research papers. There are many effective ways in which to organise research findings. The structure of your findings section might be determined by your research questions and hypotheses or match the arrangement of your methods section. A chronological order or hierarchy of importance or meaningful grouping of main themes or categories might prove effective. It may be best to present all the relevant findings and then explain them and your analysis of them, or explaining the results of each trial or test immediately after reporting it may render the material clearer and more comprehensible for your readers. Keep your audience, your most important evidence and your research goals in mind.

discuss the findings of the research

Step 3 : Design effective visual presentations of your research results to enhance the textual report of your findings. Tables of various styles and figures of all kinds such as graphs, maps and photos are used in reporting research findings, but do check the journal guidelines for instructions on the number of visual aids allowed, any required design elements and the preferred formats for numbering, labelling and placement in the manuscript. As a general rule, tables and figures should be numbered according to first mention in the main text of the paper, and each one should be clearly introduced and explained at least briefly in that text so that readers know what is presented and what they are expected to see in a particular visual element. Tables and figures should also be self-explanatory, however, so their design should include all definitions and other information necessary for a reader to understand the findings you intend to show without returning to your text. If you construct your tables and figures before drafting your findings section, they can serve as focal points to help you tell a clear and informative story about your findings and avoid unnecessary repetition. Some authors will even work on tables and figures before organising the findings section (Step 2), which can be an extremely effective approach, but it is important to remember that the textual report of findings remains primary. Visual aids can clarify and enrich the text, but they cannot take its place.

Step 4 : Write your findings section in a factual and objective manner. The goal is to communicate information – in some cases a great deal of complex information – as clearly, accurately and precisely as possible, so well-constructed sentences that maintain a simple structure will be far more effective than convoluted phrasing and expressions. The active voice is often recommended by publishers and the authors of writing manuals, and the past tense is appropriate because the research has already been done. Make sure your grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct and effective so that you are conveying the meaning you intend. Statements that are vague, imprecise or ambiguous will often confuse and mislead readers, and a verbose style will add little more than padding while wasting valuable words that might be put to far better use in clear and logical explanations. Some specialised terminology may be required when reporting findings, but anything potentially unclear or confusing that has not already been defined earlier in the paper should be clarified for readers, and the same principle applies to unusual or nonstandard abbreviations. Your readers will want to understand what you are reporting about your results, not waste time looking up terms simply to understand what you are saying. A logical approach to organising your findings section (Step 2) will help you tell a logical story about your research results as you explain, highlight, offer analysis and summarise the information necessary for readers to understand the discussion section that follows.

Step 5 : Review the draft of your findings section and edit and revise until it reports your key findings exactly as you would have them presented to your readers. Check for accuracy and consistency in data across the section as a whole and all its visual elements. Read your prose aloud to catch language errors, awkward phrases and abrupt transitions. Ensure that the order in which you have presented results is the best order for focussing readers on your research objectives and preparing them for the interpretations, speculations, recommendations and other elements of the discussion that you are planning. This will involve looking back over the paper’s introductory and background material as well as anticipating the discussion and conclusion sections, and this is precisely the right point in the process for reviewing and reflecting. Your research results have taken considerable time to obtain and analyse, so a little more time to stand back and take in the wider view from the research door you have opened is a wise investment. The opinions of any additional readers you can recruit, whether they are professional mentors and colleagues or family and friends, will often prove invaluable as well.

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How To Write the Findings Section of a Research Paper These five steps will help you write a clear & interesting findings section for a research paper

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How to Write an “Implications of Research” Section

How to Write an “Implications of Research” Section

4-minute read

  • 24th October 2022

When writing research papers , theses, journal articles, or dissertations, one cannot ignore the importance of research. You’re not only the writer of your paper but also the researcher ! Moreover, it’s not just about researching your topic, filling your paper with abundant citations, and topping it off with a reference list. You need to dig deep into your research and provide related literature on your topic. You must also discuss the implications of your research.

Interested in learning more about implications of research? Read on! This post will define these implications, why they’re essential, and most importantly, how to write them. If you’re a visual learner, you might enjoy this video .

What Are Implications of Research?

Implications are potential questions from your research that justify further exploration. They state how your research findings could affect policies, theories, and/or practices.

Implications can either be practical or theoretical. The former is the direct impact of your findings on related practices, whereas the latter is the impact on the theories you have chosen in your study.

Example of a practical implication: If you’re researching a teaching method, the implication would be how teachers can use that method based on your findings.

Example of a theoretical implication: You added a new variable to Theory A so that it could cover a broader perspective.

Finally, implications aren’t the same as recommendations, and it’s important to know the difference between them .

Questions you should consider when developing the implications section:

●  What is the significance of your findings?

●  How do the findings of your study fit with or contradict existing research on this topic?

●  Do your results support or challenge existing theories? If they support them, what new information do they contribute? If they challenge them, why do you think that is?

Why Are Implications Important?

You need implications for the following reasons:

● To reflect on what you set out to accomplish in the first place

● To see if there’s a change to the initial perspective, now that you’ve collected the data

● To inform your audience, who might be curious about the impact of your research

How to Write an Implications Section

Usually, you write your research implications in the discussion section of your paper. This is the section before the conclusion when you discuss all the hard work you did. Additionally, you’ll write the implications section before making recommendations for future research.

Implications should begin with what you discovered in your study, which differs from what previous studies found, and then you can discuss the implications of your findings.

Your implications need to be specific, meaning you should show the exact contributions of your research and why they’re essential. They should also begin with a specific sentence structure.

Examples of starting implication sentences:

●  These results build on existing evidence of…

●  These findings suggest that…

●  These results should be considered when…

●  While previous research has focused on x , these results show that y …

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You should write your implications after you’ve stated the results of your research. In other words, summarize your findings and put them into context.

The result : One study found that young learners enjoy short activities when learning a foreign language.

The implications : This result suggests that foreign language teachers use short activities when teaching young learners, as they positively affect learning.

 Example 2

The result : One study found that people who listen to calming music just before going to bed sleep better than those who watch TV.

The implications : These findings suggest that listening to calming music aids sleep quality, whereas watching TV does not.

To summarize, remember these key pointers:

●  Implications are the impact of your findings on the field of study.

●  They serve as a reflection of the research you’ve conducted.              

●  They show the specific contributions of your findings and why the audience should care.

●  They can be practical or theoretical.

●  They aren’t the same as recommendations.

●  You write them in the discussion section of the paper.

●  State the results first, and then state their implications.

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  • v.317(7150); 1998 Jul 4

Looking forward

Making better use of research findings, andrew haines.

a Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free and University College London Schools of Medicine, London NW3 2PF, b Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London Medical School

Anna Donald

There is increasing interest in implementing research findings in practice both because of a growing awareness of the gap between clinical practice and the findings of research and also because of the need to show that public investment in research results in benefits for patients. Improved understanding of the reasons for the uptake of research findings requires insights from a range of disciplines. In order to promote the uptake of research findings it is necessary to identify potential barriers to implementation and to develop strategies to overcome them. Specific interventions that can be used to promote change in practice include using clinical guidelines and computerised decision support systems, developing educational programmes, communicating research findings to patients, and developing strategies for organisational change.

Interest in how best to promote the uptake of research findings has been fuelled by a number of factors including the well documented disparities between clinical practice and research evidence of effective interventions. Examples include interventions in the management of cardiac failure, secondary prevention of heart disease, 1 atrial fibrillation, 2 menorrhagia, 3 and pregnancy and childbirth. 4 In the United Kingdom the advent of the NHS research and development programme has led to greater involvement of NHS personnel in setting priorities 5 and to the establishment of a programme to evaluate different methods of promoting the implementation of research findings. 6 The concept of pay back on research 7 has also been developed, resulting in a framework that can be used to assess the benefits arising from research.

Relying on the passive diffusion of information to keep health professionals’ knowledge up to date is doomed to failure in a global environment in which about 2 million articles on medical issues are published annually. 8 There is also growing awareness that conventional continuing education activities, such as conferences and courses, which focus largely on the passive acquisition of knowledge have little impact on the behaviour of health professionals. 9 The circulation of guidelines without an implementation strategy is also unlikely to result in changes in practice. 10

Summary points

  • Reasons for failing to get research findings into practice are many and include the lack of appropriate information at the point of decision making and social, organisational, and institutional barriers to change
  • All people within an organisation who will have to implement the change or who can influence change should be involved in developing strategies for change
  • Better links between clinical audit, continuing education, and research and development need to be developed
  • Evidence of the effectiveness of specific interventions to promote change is still incomplete, but a combination of interventions will probably be needed
  • The pressure for more effective and efficient implementation of research findings is likely to grow

Health professionals need to plan for rapid changes in knowledge, something that is likely to persist throughout our professional lifetimes and which encompasses not only diagnostic techniques, drug treatment, behavioural interventions, and surgical procedures but also ways of delivering and organising health services and developing health policy. Many health professionals already feel overburdened, and therefore a radical change in approach is required so that they can manage change rather than feel like its victims. A number of steps are necessary in order to support this process.

Keeping abreast of new knowledge

Health professionals need timely, valid, and relevant information to be available at the point of decision making. Despite extensive investment in information technology by the NHS the rapid delivery of such information is not widely available. Relatively simple prompting and reminder systems can improve clinicians’ performance 11 ; the price of useful databases such as Best Evidence (which comprises Evidence-Based Medicine and the American College of Physicians Journal Club on CD ROM) and The Cochrane Library is little more than the cost of subscribing to a journal. There are an increasing number of journals, such as Evidence-Based Medicine, that review important papers rigorously and present the results in a way that busy clinicians can rapidly absorb. The NHS reviews and dissemination centre in York compiles systematic reviews that are relevant to clinicians and policymakers. Nevertheless, many clinicians still do not receive such information, 12 and more needs to be done to provide a wider range of high quality information that is usable in practice settings.

Librarians’ roles are changing rapidly; in North America, for example, some librarians are involved in clinical practice through programmes such as literature attached to the chart (LATCH). 13 In these programmes, hospital librarians participate in ward rounds and actively support clinical decision making at the bedside. Requests for information are documented in the notes, and articles are subsequently delivered to the ward. Similar programmes could be introduced elsewhere after appropriate evaluation, but information support is also needed in primary care settings. In the United Kingdom many health professionals, such as nurses, may not be permitted to use their hospital library since they are not formally affiliated with the (medical) body that funds them.

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Object name is haia01rf.f1.jpg

Implementing knowledge

Research findings can influence decisions at many levels—in caring for individual patients, in developing practice guidelines, in commissioning health care, in developing prevention and health promotion strategies, in developing policy, in designing educational programmes, and in performing clinical audit—but only if clinicians know how to translate knowledge into action. The acquisition of database searching and critical appraisal skills should give health professionals greater confidence in finding and assessing the quality of publications, but this does not necessarily help in applying new knowledge to day to day problems. 14 Much attention has been paid to the use of best evidence during consultations with individual patients—that is, using evidence based medicine derived largely from epidemiological methods. 15 , 16 However, organisational change is often also necessary to implement clinical change. Even a step as simple as ensuring that all patients with a history of myocardial infarction are offered aspirin requires that a number of smaller steps are taken including identifying patients, contacting them, explaining the rationale, checking for contraindications, and prescribing aspirin or advising patients to buy it over the counter. Furthermore, health professionals have their own experiences, beliefs, and perceptions about appropriate practice; attempts to change practice which ignore these factors are unlikely to succeed. Awareness of these pitfalls has led to greater emphasis on understanding social, behavioural, and organisational factors which may act as barriers to change. 17

A wide spectrum of approaches for promoting implementation has been used. These approaches are underpinned by a number of theoretical perspectives on behavioural change such as cognitive theories which focus on rational information seeking and decision making; management theories which emphasise organisational conditions needed to improve care; learning theories which lead to behavioural approaches involving, for example, audit and feedback and reminder systems; and social influence theories which focus on understanding and using the social environment to promote and reinforce change. 18

Clearly these approaches are not mutually exclusive. For example, the transmission of information from research to single practitioners or small groups of health professionals through educational outreach has a strong educational component but might also include aspects of social influence interventions 19 in pointing out the use of a particular treatment by local colleagues. The marketing strategies used by the pharmaceutical industry depend on segmentation of the target audience into groups that are likely to share characteristics so that a message can be tailored to that group. 20 Similar techniques might be adapted for non-commercial use within the NHS. The evidence for the effectiveness of different approaches and interventions is still incomplete and will be reviewed in a subsequent article in the series. 21 In many cases a combination of approaches will be more effective than a single intervention. 22 No single theoretical perspective has been adequately validated to guide the choice of implementation strategies.

Steps in promoting the uptake of research findings

  • Determine that there is an appreciable gap between research findings and practice
  • Define the appropriate message (for example, the information to be used)
  • Decide which processes need to be altered
  • Involve the key players (for example those people who will implement change or who are in a position to influence change)
  • Identify the barriers to change and decide how to overcome them
  • Decide on specific interventions to promote change (for example the use of guidelines or educational programmes)
  • Identify levers for change—that is, existing mechanisms which can be used to promote change (for example, financial incentives to attend educational programmes or placing appropriate questions in professional examinations)
  • Determine whether practice has changed in the way desired; use clinical audit to monitor change

The study of the diffusion of innovations—how new ideas are transmitted through social networks—has been influential in illustrating that those who adopt new ideas early tend to differ in a number of ways from those who adopt the ideas later. For example, those who adopt new ideas early tend to have more extensive social and professional networks. 23 Much of the medical literature has a bias towards innovation and the underlying assumption is that innovations are bound to be beneficial. However, in health care the challenge is to promote the uptake of innovations that have been shown to be effective, to delay the spread of those that have not yet been shown to be effective, and to prevent the uptake of ineffective innovations. 24

Although different people can promote the uptake of research findings—including policymakers, commissioning authorities, educators, and provider managers—it is largely clinicians and their patients who will implement findings. A number of steps need to be taken in order to get research findings into practice (box previous page). The characteristics of the message should also be considered; they may influence the degree to which the message is incorporated into practice (box above).

Important characteristics of the message

  • Generalisability (settings in which the intervention is relevant)
  • Applicability (the patients to whom the intervention is relevant)
  • Format and presentation (for example, will there be written or computerised guidelines, will absolute and relative risk reductions be presented)

Other characteristics

  • Source of the message (for example, professional organisation, Department of Health)
  • Channels of communication (how the message will be disseminated)
  • Target audiences (the recipients)
  • Timing of the initial launch and frequency of updating
  • Mechanism for updating the message

The choice of key players—those people in the organisation who will have to implement change or who can influence change—will depend on the processes to be changed; in primary care, for example, nurses and administrative staff should be involved in many cases, in addition to general practitioners, since their cooperation will be essential for organisational change to be effective. If the innovation involves the acquisition of specific skills, such as training in certain procedures, then those who organise postgraduate and continuing education are also key players.

The identification of barriers to change and the development of strategies to overcome them are likely to be of fundamental importance in promoting the uptake of research findings. Some examples of barriers to the application of research findings to patients are given in the box on the next page. A future article will propose a conceptual framework for analysing and overcoming barriers. 25 Since some of the strongest resistance to change may be related to the experiences and beliefs of health professionals, the early involvement of key players is essential in identifying and, when necessary, overcoming such impediments to change. Barriers need to be reviewed during the process of implementation as their nature may change over time.

Interventions to promote change must be tailored to the problem, audience, and the resources available. Educational outreach, for example, may be particularly appropriate for updating primary care practitioners in the management of specific conditions because they tend to work alone or in small groups. Guidelines based on research evidence may be developed and endorsed by national professional organisations and adapted for local use as part of clinical audit and educational programmes.

Linking research with practice

There need to be closer links between research and practice, so that research is relevant to practitioners’ needs and so that practitioners are willing to participate in research. While there is evidence that some researchers can promote their own work, 26 in general researchers have not been systematically involved in the implementation of their own findings and may not be well equipped to do this. In the United Kingdom, the NHS research and development programme is seeking views about priorities for research through a broad consultation process. 5 Better methods of involving those who are most likely to use the results of research are needed to ensure that research questions are framed appropriately and tested in relevant contexts using interventions that can be replicated in everyday practice. For example, there is little point conducting trials of a new intervention in hospital practice if virtually all of the treatments for a particular disorder are carried out in primary care settings. Contextual relevance is particularly important in studies of the organisation and delivery of services, 27 such as stroke units, hospital at home schemes, and schemes for improving hospital discharge procedures to reduce readmissions among elderly patients. If unaccounted for, differences in skill mix and management structures between innovative services and most providers can make it difficult for providers to have a clear view of how they should best implement findings in their own units.

Interaction between purchasers and providers

—In the NHS, purchasers as well as providers should be involved in applying research findings to practice. Purchasers can help create an environment conducive to change, for example, by ensuring that health professionals have access to information, that libraries are financially supported, and that continuing education and audit programmes are configured to work together to promote effective practice. Purchasers could also ensure that the organisation and delivery of services takes into account the best available research evidence. However, it is clear that the degree of influence exerted by purchasers on the practice of providers is limited, 28 and that priority must be given to helping providers develop the capacity to understand and use research findings.

Making implementation an integral part of training

—For many health professionals, involvement in implementation may be far more relevant to their careers and to the development of the NHS than undertaking laboratory research, yet pressures to undertake research remain strong. Greater encouragement should be given to clinicians to spend time learning to use and implement research findings effectively.

Potential barriers to change


In the practice

  • Limitations of time
  • Limitations of the organisation of the practice (for example, a lack of disease registers or mechanisms to monitor repeat prescribing)

In education

  • Inappropriate continuing education and failure to connect with programmes to promote better quality of care
  • Lack of incentives to participate in effective educational activities

In health care

  • Lack of financial resources
  • Lack of defined practice populations
  • Health policies which promote ineffective or unproved activities
  • Failure to provide practitioners with access to appropriate information
  • Influence of the media on patients in creating demands or beliefs
  • Impact of disadvantage on patients’ access to care

Factors associated with the practitioner

  • Obsolete knowledge
  • Influence of opinion leaders (such as health professionals whose views influence their peers)
  • Beliefs and attitudes (for example, a previous adverse experience of innovation)

Factors associated with the patient

  • Demands for care
  • Perceptions or cultural beliefs about appropriate care

Factors which in some circumstances might be perceived as barriers to change can also be levers for change. For example, patients may influence practitioners’ behaviour towards clinically effective practice by requesting interventions that have been proved to be effective. Practitioners might be influenced positively by opinion leaders.

Learning to evaluate and use research findings in daily practice is an important and lifelong part of professional development. This requires not only changes in educational programmes, but also a realignment of institutions so that management structures can support changes in knowledge and the implementation of changes in procedures.

There are major structural difficulties that need to be overcome in the NHS. For example, better coordination at national, regional, and local levels is required between the education and training of health professionals, clinical audit, and research and development. This type of coordination should be a priority for the proposed national institute for clinical excellence in the United Kingdom. 29

It has been suggested that financial considerations, rather than the potential for gaining useful knowledge, affect general practitioners’ choice of continuing education courses. 30 One of the aims of continuing education should be to ensure that practitioners stay up to date with research findings of major importance for patient care and change their practice accordingly. Continuing education activities need to take into account evidence about the ineffectiveness of many traditional approaches. To develop a more integrated approach to promoting the uptake of research findings, health systems need to have coordinated mechanisms that can manage the continuing evolution of medical knowledge.

The advent of research based information that is available to patients 31 and the increasing accessibility of information of variable quality through the internet and other sources suggests that doctors have the potential to act as information brokers and interpreters for patients. Doctors could also work together with user groups representing patients or their carers, a number of which have demonstrated an interest in and commitment to providing quality research based information to their members. 32 The pace of change in knowledge is unlikely to slow. As health systems around the world struggle to reconcile change with limited resources and rising expectations, pressure to implement research findings more effectively and efficiently is bound to grow.

Funding: None.

Conflict of interest: None.

The articles in this series are adapted from Coping with Loss , edited by Colin Murray Parkes and Andrew Markus, which will be published in July.

discuss the findings of the research

Research Implications & Recommendations

A Plain-Language Explainer With Examples + FREE Template

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | May 2024

The research implications and recommendations are closely related but distinctly different concepts that often trip students up. Here, we’ll unpack them using plain language and loads of examples , so that you can approach your project with confidence.

Overview: Implications & Recommendations

  • What are research implications ?
  • What are research recommendations ?
  • Examples of implications and recommendations
  • The “ Big 3 ” categories
  • How to write the implications and recommendations
  • Template sentences for both sections
  • Key takeaways

Implications & Recommendations 101

Let’s start with the basics and define our terms.

At the simplest level, research implications refer to the possible effects or outcomes of a study’s findings. More specifically, they answer the question, “ What do these findings mean?” . In other words, the implications section is where you discuss the broader impact of your study’s findings on theory, practice and future research.

This discussion leads us to the recommendations section , which is where you’ll propose specific actions based on your study’s findings and answer the question, “ What should be done next?” . In other words, the recommendations are practical steps that stakeholders can take to address the key issues identified by your study.

In a nutshell, then, the research implications discuss the broader impact and significance of a study’s findings, while recommendations provide specific actions to take, based on those findings. So, while both of these components are deeply rooted in the findings of the study, they serve different functions within the write up.

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discuss the findings of the research

Examples: Implications & Recommendations

The distinction between research implications and research recommendations might still feel a bit conceptual, so let’s look at one or two practical examples:

Let’s assume that your study finds that interactive learning methods significantly improve student engagement compared to traditional lectures. In this case, one of your recommendations could be that schools incorporate more interactive learning techniques into their curriculums to enhance student engagement.

Let’s imagine that your study finds that patients who receive personalised care plans have better health outcomes than those with standard care plans. One of your recommendations might be that healthcare providers develop and implement personalised care plans for their patients.

Now, these are admittedly quite simplistic examples, but they demonstrate the difference (and connection ) between the research implications and the recommendations. Simply put, the implications are about the impact of the findings, while the recommendations are about proposed actions, based on the findings.

The implications discuss the broader impact and significance of a study’s findings, while recommendations propose specific actions.

The “Big 3” Categories

Now that we’ve defined our terms, let’s dig a little deeper into the implications – specifically, the different types or categories of research implications that exist.

Broadly speaking, implications can be divided into three categories – theoretical implications, practical implications and implications for future research .

Theoretical implications relate to how your study’s findings contribute to or challenge existing theories. For example, if a study on social behaviour uncovers new patterns, it might suggest that modifications to current psychological theories are necessary.

Practical implications , on the other hand, focus on how your study’s findings can be applied in real-world settings. For example, if your study demonstrated the effectiveness of a new teaching method, this would imply that educators should consider adopting this method to improve learning outcomes.

Practical implications can also involve policy reconsiderations . For example, if a study reveals significant health benefits from a particular diet, an implication might be that public health guidelines be re-evaluated.

Last but not least, there are the implications for future research . As the name suggests, this category of implications highlights the research gaps or new questions raised by your study. For example, if your study finds mixed results regarding a relationship between two variables, it might imply the need for further investigation to clarify these findings.

To recap then, the three types of implications are the theoretical, the practical and the implications on future research. Regardless of the category, these implications feed into and shape the recommendations , laying the foundation for the actions you’ll propose.

Implications can be divided into three categories: theoretical implications, practical implications and implications for future research.

How To Write The  Sections

Now that we’ve laid the foundations, it’s time to explore how to write up the implications and recommendations sections respectively.

Let’s start with the “ where ” before digging into the “ how ”. Typically, the implications will feature in the discussion section of your document, while the recommendations will be located in the conclusion . That said, layouts can vary between disciplines and institutions, so be sure to check with your university what their preferences are.

For the implications section, a common approach is to structure the write-up based on the three categories we looked at earlier – theoretical, practical and future research implications. In practical terms, this discussion will usually follow a fairly formulaic sentence structure – for example:

This research provides new insights into [theoretical aspect], indicating that…

The study’s outcomes highlight the potential benefits of adopting [specific practice] in..

This study raises several questions that warrant further investigation, such as…

Moving onto the recommendations section, you could again structure your recommendations using the three categories. Alternatively, you could structure the discussion per stakeholder group – for example, policymakers, organisations, researchers, etc.

Again, you’ll likely use a fairly formulaic sentence structure for this section. Here are some examples for your inspiration: 

Based on the findings, [specific group] should consider adopting [new method] to improve…

To address the issues identified, it is recommended that legislation should be introduced to…

Researchers should consider examining [specific variable] to build on the current study’s findings.

Remember, you can grab a copy of our tried and tested templates for both the discussion and conclusion sections over on the Grad Coach blog. You can find the links to those, as well as loads of other free resources, in the description 🙂

FAQs: Implications & Recommendations

How do i determine the implications of my study.

To do this, you’ll need to consider how your findings address gaps in the existing literature, how they could influence theory, practice, or policy, and the potential societal or economic impacts.

When thinking about your findings, it’s also a good idea to revisit your introduction chapter, where you would have discussed the potential significance of your study more broadly. This section can help spark some additional ideas about what your findings mean in relation to your original research aims. 

Should I discuss both positive and negative implications?

Absolutely. You’ll need to discuss both the positive and negative implications to provide a balanced view of how your findings affect the field and any limitations or potential downsides.

Can my research implications be speculative?

Yes and no. While implications are somewhat more speculative than recommendations and can suggest potential future outcomes, they should be grounded in your data and analysis. So, be careful to avoid overly speculative claims.

How do I formulate recommendations?

Ideally, you should base your recommendations on the limitations and implications of your study’s findings. So, consider what further research is needed, how policies could be adapted, or how practices could be improved – and make proposals in this respect.

How specific should my recommendations be?

Your recommendations should be as specific as possible, providing clear guidance on what actions or research should be taken next. As mentioned earlier, the implications can be relatively broad, but the recommendations should be very specific and actionable. Ideally, you should apply the SMART framework to your recommendations.

Can I recommend future research in my recommendations?

Absolutely. Highlighting areas where further research is needed is a key aspect of the recommendations section. Naturally, these recommendations should link to the respective section of your implications (i.e., implications for future research).

Wrapping Up: Key Takeaways

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground here, so let’s quickly recap.

  • Research implications refer to the possible effects or outcomes of a study’s findings.
  • The recommendations section, on the other hand, is where you’ll propose specific actions based on those findings.
  • You can structure your implications section based on the three overarching categories – theoretical, practical and future research implications.
  • You can carry this structure through to the recommendations as well, or you can group your recommendations by stakeholder.

Remember to grab a copy of our tried and tested free dissertation template, which covers both the implications and recommendations sections. If you’d like 1:1 help with your research project, be sure to check out our private coaching service, where we hold your hand throughout the research journey, step by step.

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Writing the Discussion Section/ Results/ Findings Section of an Academic Research Study/ Thesis

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2021, Writing a succesful a cademic thesis

This article is a brief guidance on effective writing of academic research thesis with a focus on the results/ findings section/ chapters. It provides step by step highlights on how to present data from the field, interpretation of the findings, corroborating the findings with existing studies as well as the use of theoretical tenets to discuss the findings. The conclusions and recommendations sections are also highlighted.

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Most professors will require the use of academic (AKA peer-reviewed) sources for student writing. This is because these sources, written for academic audiences of specific fields, are helpful for developing your argument on many topics of interest in the academic realm, from history to biology. While popular sources like news articles also often discuss topics of interest within academic fields, peer-reviewed sources offer a depth of research and expertise that you cannot find in popular sources. Therefore, knowing how to (1) identify popular vs. academic sources, (2) differentiate between primary and secondary sources, and (3) find academic sources is a vital step in writing research. Below are definitions of the two ways scholars categorize types of sources based on when they were created (i.e. time and place) and how (i.e. methodology):

Popular vs. academic sources:

  • Popular sources are publicly accessible periodicals–newspapers, magazines, and blogs–such as The Washington Post or The New Yorker . These sources are most often written for non-academic audiences, but can be helpful for finding general information and a variety of opinions on your topic.
  • Academic sources , known also as peer reviewed or scholarly articles, are those that have undergone peer review before being published. Typically, these articles are written for other scholars in the field and are published in academic journals, like Feminist Studies or The American Journal of Psychology . Literature reviews, research projects, case studies, and notes from the field are common examples.

Primary vs. secondary sources:

  • Primary sources are articles written by people directly involved in what they were writing about, including: News reports and photographs, diaries and novels, films and videos, speeches and autobiographies, as well as original research and statistics.
  • Secondary sources , on the other hand, are second hand accounts written about a topic based on primary sources. Whether a journal article or other academic publication is considered a secondary source depends on how you use it.

How to Find Academic Sources

Finding appropriate academic sources from the hundreds of different journal publications can be daunting. Therefore, it is important to find databases –digital collections of articles–relevant to your topic to narrow your search. Albertson’s Library has access to several different databases, which can be located by clicking the “Articles and Databases” tab on the website’s homepage, and navigating to “Databases A-Z” to refine your search. Popular databases include: Academic Search Premier and Proquest Central (non-specific databases which include a wide variety of articles), JSTOR (humanities and social sciences, from literature to history), Web of Science (formal sciences and natural sciences such as biology and chemistry), and Google Scholar (a web search engine that searches scholarly literature and academic sources). If you are unable to access articles from other databases, make sure you’re signed in to Alberton’s Library through Boise State!

Performing a Database Search

Databases include many different types of sources besides academic journals, however, including book reviews and other periodicals. Using the search bar , you can limit search results to those containing specific keywords or phrases like “writing center” or “transfer theory.” Utilizing keywords in your search–names of key concepts, authors, or ideas–rather than questions is the most effective way to find articles in databases. When searching for a specific work by title, placing the title in quotation marks will ensure your search includes only results in that specific word order. In the example below, search terms including the author (“Virginia Woolf”) and subject (“feminism”) are entered into the popular database EBSCOhost:

A screen capture of search results on EBSCOhost. Green highlighting points out the search function, with the caption "Search bar with basic search terms." In the highlighted search bar is the query "virginia Woolf and feminism." Below are search results, with text matching the search term(s) in bold.

Refining Your Search Results

Many databases have a bar on the left of the screen where you can further refine your results. For example, if you are only interested in finding complete scholarly articles, or peer-reviewed ones, you can toggle these different options to further limit your search. These options are located under the “Refine Results” bar in EBSCOhost, divided into different sections, with a display of currently selected search filters and filter options to refine your search based on your specific needs, as seen in the figure below:

Another screen capture of EBSCOhost, this time with green highlighting pointing out the refine results area to the left. The first caption, located at the top, points to the "Current Search" box and reads "Displays your selected filters." The second caption, pointing to the "Limit To" and "Subject" boxes, reads "Options to filter your search."

Search results can also be limited by subject : If you search “Romeo and Juliet” on Academic Search Premier to find literary analysis articles for your English class, you’ll find a lot of other sources that include this search term, such as ones about theater production or ballets based on Shakespeare’s play. However, if you’re writing a literary paper on the text of the play itself, you might limit your search results to “fiction” to see only articles that discuss the play within the field of literature. Alternatively, for a theater class discussing the play, you might limit your search results to “drama.”

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Home » Implications in Research – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

Implications in Research – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

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Implications in Research

Implications in Research

Implications in research refer to the potential consequences, applications, or outcomes of the findings and conclusions of a research study. These can include both theoretical and practical implications that extend beyond the immediate scope of the study and may impact various stakeholders, such as policymakers, practitioners, researchers , or the general public.

Structure of Implications

The format of implications in research typically follows the structure below:

  • Restate the main findings: Begin by restating the main findings of the study in a brief summary .
  • Link to the research question/hypothesis : Clearly articulate how the findings are related to the research question /hypothesis.
  • Discuss the practical implications: Discuss the practical implications of the findings, including their potential impact on the field or industry.
  • Discuss the theoretical implications : Discuss the theoretical implications of the findings, including their potential impact on existing theories or the development of new ones.
  • Identify limitations: Identify the limitations of the study and how they may affect the generalizability of the findings.
  • Suggest directions for future research: Suggest areas for future research that could build on the current study’s findings and address any limitations.

Types of Implications in Research

Types of Implications in Research are as follows:

Theoretical Implications

These are the implications that a study has for advancing theoretical understanding in a particular field. For example, a study that finds a new relationship between two variables can have implications for the development of theories and models in that field.

Practical Implications

These are the implications that a study has for solving practical problems or improving real-world outcomes. For example, a study that finds a new treatment for a disease can have implications for improving the health of patients.

Methodological Implications

These are the implications that a study has for advancing research methods and techniques. For example, a study that introduces a new method for data analysis can have implications for how future research in that field is conducted.

Ethical Implications

These are the implications that a study has for ethical considerations in research. For example, a study that involves human participants must consider the ethical implications of the research on the participants and take steps to protect their rights and welfare.

Policy Implications

These are the implications that a study has for informing policy decisions. For example, a study that examines the effectiveness of a particular policy can have implications for policymakers who are considering whether to implement or change that policy.

Societal Implications

These are the implications that a study has for society as a whole. For example, a study that examines the impact of a social issue such as poverty or inequality can have implications for how society addresses that issue.

Forms of Implications In Research

Forms of Implications are as follows:

Positive Implications

These refer to the positive outcomes or benefits that may result from a study’s findings. For example, a study that finds a new treatment for a disease can have positive implications for patients, healthcare providers, and the wider society.

Negative Implications

These refer to the negative outcomes or risks that may result from a study’s findings. For example, a study that finds a harmful side effect of a medication can have negative implications for patients, healthcare providers, and the wider society.

Direct Implications

These refer to the immediate consequences of a study’s findings. For example, a study that finds a new method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions can have direct implications for policymakers and businesses.

Indirect Implications

These refer to the broader or long-term consequences of a study’s findings. For example, a study that finds a link between childhood trauma and mental health issues can have indirect implications for social welfare policies, education, and public health.

Importance of Implications in Research

The following are some of the reasons why implications are important in research:

  • To inform policy and practice: Research implications can inform policy and practice decisions by providing evidence-based recommendations for actions that can be taken to address the issues identified in the research. This can lead to more effective policies and practices that are grounded in empirical evidence.
  • To guide future research: Implications can also guide future research by identifying areas that need further investigation, highlighting gaps in current knowledge, and suggesting new directions for research.
  • To increase the impact of research : By communicating the practical and theoretical implications of their research, researchers can increase the impact of their work by demonstrating its relevance and importance to a wider audience.
  • To enhance the credibility of research : Implications can help to enhance the credibility of research by demonstrating that the findings have practical and theoretical significance and are not just abstract or academic exercises.
  • To foster collaboration and engagement : Implications can also foster collaboration and engagement between researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and other stakeholders by providing a common language and understanding of the practical and theoretical implications of the research.

Example of Implications in Research

Here are some examples of implications in research:

  • Medical research: A study on the efficacy of a new drug for a specific disease can have significant implications for medical practitioners, patients, and pharmaceutical companies. If the drug is found to be effective, it can be used to treat patients with the disease, improve their health outcomes, and generate revenue for the pharmaceutical company.
  • Educational research: A study on the impact of technology on student learning can have implications for educators and policymakers. If the study finds that technology improves student learning outcomes, educators can incorporate technology into their teaching methods, and policymakers can allocate more resources to technology in schools.
  • Social work research: A study on the effectiveness of a new intervention program for individuals with mental health issues can have implications for social workers, mental health professionals, and policymakers. If the program is found to be effective, social workers and mental health professionals can incorporate it into their practice, and policymakers can allocate more resources to the program.
  • Environmental research: A study on the impact of climate change on a particular ecosystem can have implications for environmentalists, policymakers, and industries. If the study finds that the ecosystem is at risk, environmentalists can advocate for policy changes to protect the ecosystem, policymakers can allocate resources to mitigate the impact of climate change, and industries can adjust their practices to reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Economic research: A study on the impact of minimum wage on employment can have implications for policymakers and businesses. If the study finds that increasing the minimum wage does not lead to job losses, policymakers can implement policies to increase the minimum wage, and businesses can adjust their payroll practices.

How to Write Implications in Research

Writing implications in research involves discussing the potential outcomes or consequences of your findings and the practical applications of your study’s results. Here are some steps to follow when writing implications in research:

  • Summarize your key findings: Before discussing the implications of your research, briefly summarize your key findings. This will provide context for your implications and help readers understand how your research relates to your conclusions.
  • Identify the implications: Identify the potential implications of your research based on your key findings. Consider how your results might be applied in the real world, what further research might be necessary, and what other areas of study could be impacted by your research.
  • Connect implications to research question: Make sure that your implications are directly related to your research question or hypotheses. This will help to ensure that your implications are relevant and meaningful.
  • Consider limitations : Acknowledge any limitations or weaknesses of your research, and discuss how these might impact the implications of your research. This will help to provide a more balanced view of your findings.
  • Discuss practical applications : Discuss the practical applications of your research and how your findings could be used in real-world situations. This might include recommendations for policy or practice changes, or suggestions for future research.
  • Be clear and concise : When writing implications in research, be clear and concise. Use simple language and avoid jargon or technical terms that might be confusing to readers.
  • Provide a strong conclusion: Provide a strong conclusion that summarizes your key implications and leaves readers with a clear understanding of the significance of your research.

Purpose of Implications in Research

The purposes of implications in research include:

  • Informing practice: The implications of research can provide guidance for practitioners, policymakers, and other stakeholders about how to apply research findings in practical settings.
  • Generating new research questions: Implications can also inspire new research questions that build upon the findings of the original study.
  • Identifying gaps in knowledge: Implications can help to identify areas where more research is needed to fully understand a phenomenon.
  • Promoting scientific literacy: Implications can also help to promote scientific literacy by communicating research findings in accessible and relevant ways.
  • Facilitating decision-making : The implications of research can assist decision-makers in making informed decisions based on scientific evidence.
  • Contributing to theory development : Implications can also contribute to the development of theories by expanding upon or challenging existing theories.

When to Write Implications in Research

Here are some specific situations of when to write implications in research:

  • Research proposal : When writing a research proposal, it is important to include a section on the potential implications of the research. This section should discuss the potential impact of the research on the field and its potential applications.
  • Literature review : The literature review is an important section of the research paper where the researcher summarizes existing knowledge on the topic. This is also a good place to discuss the potential implications of the research. The researcher can identify gaps in the literature and suggest areas for further research.
  • Conclusion or discussion section : The conclusion or discussion section is where the researcher summarizes the findings of the study and interprets their meaning. This is a good place to discuss the implications of the research and its potential impact on the field.

Advantages of Implications in Research

Implications are an important part of research that can provide a range of advantages. Here are some of the key advantages of implications in research:

  • Practical applications: Implications can help researchers to identify practical applications of their research findings, which can be useful for practitioners and policymakers who are interested in applying the research in real-world contexts.
  • Improved decision-making: Implications can also help decision-makers to make more informed decisions based on the research findings. By clearly identifying the implications of the research, decision-makers can understand the potential outcomes of their decisions and make better choices.
  • Future research directions : Implications can also guide future research directions by highlighting areas that require further investigation or by suggesting new research questions. This can help to build on existing knowledge and fill gaps in the current understanding of a topic.
  • Increased relevance: By highlighting the implications of their research, researchers can increase the relevance of their work to real-world problems and challenges. This can help to increase the impact of their research and make it more meaningful to stakeholders.
  • Enhanced communication : Implications can also help researchers to communicate their findings more effectively to a wider audience. By highlighting the practical applications and potential benefits of their research, researchers can engage with stakeholders and communicate the value of their work more clearly.

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Lin, Y.; Khurelsukh, K.; Li, I.-G.; Wu, C.-T.; Wu, Y.-M.; Lin, G.; Toh, C.-H.; Wan, Y.-L. Incidental Findings in Lung Cancer Screening. Cancers 2024 , 16 , 2600. https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers16142600

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Lin, Yenpo, Khulan Khurelsukh, I-Gung Li, Chen-Te Wu, Yi-Ming Wu, Gigin Lin, Cheng-Hong Toh, and Yung-Liang Wan. 2024. "Incidental Findings in Lung Cancer Screening" Cancers 16, no. 14: 2600. https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers16142600

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Unexpected findings from L2 speech research can help us understand how humans process vowels

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Research on nonnative speakers' vowel production and perception has provided us with a number of surprising insights on how learners cope with nonnative vowels. Three of these initially unexpected, yet later solidly replicated, findings will be presented: (1) A decline in intelligibility of nonnative vowels as general proficiency improves (when an increase in intelligibility will be expected), (2) the use of acoustic cues in L2 vowel perception that cannot be attributed to transfer from the native language, and that are nonfunctional in the L2, and (3) the maintenance from infant speech perception in adult cross-language vowel perception of a bias favoring peripheral vowels. This presentation will discuss implications of these findings for our understanding of how vowel categories coexist in the minds of multilinguals, and of universally (native-language independent) preferred ways of vowel perception.

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Game Changer: Exploring the Role of Board Games in the Lives of Autistic People

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  • Liam Cross 1 ,
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This mixed methods paper reports findings from three studies examining the overlap between autism and hobbyist board gaming. The first was a quantitative survey of over 1600 board gamers, showing that autistic individuals are overrepresented in this hobby compared to the general population and that autistic traits measured by the AQ are significantly elevated amongst board gamers. Study 1 also assessed gamers’ motivations and preferences and reported key differences as well as similarities between autistic and non-autistic gamers. The second was a qualitative study that reported the results of 13 interviews with autistic individuals who are hobbyist board gamers. Using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), four key themes were uncovered, including a preference for systemising, escapism and passions, the social lubrication effect of games and difficulties with deception. In the third, 28 autistic individuals were introduced to board games in groups of 5–10 over an afternoon. Subsequent focus groups were then analysed using IPA. This analysis uncovered themes around how board games are challenging but encouraged growth and how they were an alternative vehicle for forging social relationships. Through this paper, we discuss how and why board games may be a popular hobby amongst the autistic population, and its potential utility for improving autistic wellbeing.

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Autism spectrum condition (ASC) is a neurodevelopmental condition affecting an estimated 1% of the population globally (Kogan et al., 2018 ). A recent systematic review by Zeidan et al. ( 2022 ) estimated that the median prevalence of autism worldwide is 100/10,000 (1% prevalence), with a median male-to-female ratio of 4.2 to 1 and co-occurring intellectual disability at around 33%. Great strides have been made to improve awareness and acceptance of autism, including reconceptualising autism as a condition with considerable accompanying strengths (Cope & Remington, 2022 ). Nevertheless, there is still a need to understand the strengths and challenges inherent to the autistic experience to improve the quality of life throughout the lifespan, as research suggests that autistic adults do not experience the same gains as neurotypicals when moving through adulthood (Atherton et al., 2021 ).

Flow Theory, Monotropism and Passions

Around 75–90% of autistic people, compared to an estimated 30% of neurotypicals (Klin et al., 2007 ), report having strong interests in domains where they develop expertise and high levels of engagement (Caldwell-Harris & Jordan, 2014 ). These are traditionally referred to as restricted interests in the DSM V, though here we use the term passions as this is a strengths-based term (Bailey, 2023 ; Barton & Hamilton, 2012 ). Two theories have been used to understand the hyper-focus often seen in autistic people when engaged with their passions. Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi, ( 1990 ) described flow as a psychological state in which one achieves a high level of enjoyment of a task to the point of experiencing optimal happiness where nothing else seems to matter. An increasingly popular model for autism that can describe this atypical focus of attention is the interest model, also known as monotropism (Murray et al., 2005 ). In a monotropic flow state, autistic people can gain predictability, achievement, and optimal happiness by being ‘pulled in’ by their passions (Milton, 2017 ). Some have argued that monotropic attention may be advantageous to autistic people when it is channelled to provide educational and social advantages, such as developing expertise and demonstrating enthusiasm (Wood, 2021 ).

Though autism can be understood as a condition with considerable accompanying strengths, research suggests that there are still struggles autistic people face in everyday life (Graham Holmes et al., 2020 ). To compensate for these, many autistic people become adept at masking or camouflaging, which means hiding one’s autistic traits in order to fit into a neurotypical world (Hull et al., 2017 ). Masking is related to poor mental health outcomes (Bradley et al., 2021 ), including an increased risk for negative self-appraisal (Cage & Troxell-Whitman, 2019 ) and engaging in self-harm (Mournet et al., 2023 ). One method for living authentically is for autistic people to be open about their areas of expertise or interests, which is positively linked to their quality of life (Grove et al., 2018 ). Passions engage and motivate autistic individuals and often reduce stress and anxiety (Attwood, 2003 ). For example, Winter-Messiers ( 2007 ) found that when autistic students were involved in activities related to their passions, they reported higher self-esteem, felt more confident and displayed more enthusiasm and positive emotions. Autistic individuals often report the need to express their desires and interests to allow them to feel comfortable in social situations and their environments (Späth & Jongsma, 2020 ). In this sense, it is vital to encourage the passions of autistic people and create opportunities for these passions to be explored in social spaces.

Autism and Board Games

Board gaming is a pastime that may be particularly well suited to autistic monotropic engagement, as it requires sustained attention and a transfer of established skills to new domains (Gobet et al., 2004 ). As autism is a particularly heterogeneous condition, a characteristic which extends to the diversity of passions in those on the spectrum (Nowell et al., 2021 ), the variety of board game options may be particularly well suited to this population (Brown & MacCallum-Stewart, 2020 ). The wide array of board games on offer means autistic people can find a game that suits their unique interests. For instance, research on the most common passions of autistic people includes animals and transport (Cho et al., 2017 ). These are also common themes of board games (Cross et al., 2023 ), which may mean that autistic people could find game themes that allow them to engage with their areas of expertise, which has been shown to benefit autistic well-being (Harrop et al., 2019 ).

Autistic individuals often struggle to form close relationships and friendships, with research suggesting they are more likely to feel lonely and isolated (Mazurek, 2014 ; Umagami et al., 2022 ). Board games may be a vital hobby to improve these outcomes. Rogerson et al. ( 2016 ), for instance, interviewed eleven board gamers who stressed the importance of board games sociality, highlighting how spending time with like-minded people was a crucial aspect of play.

Though there is very little academic work in this area (Atherton & Cross, 2021 ), there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that modern board games may be a popular hobby for those on the spectrum. Multiple magazine articles and blog posts discuss the link between the two (Russell, 2023 ), and there are myriad examples of overlap between autism and modern board gaming in popular media (Arndt, 2023 ).

Modern Board Gaming

Modern board gaming is a fast-growing hobby, and its community is evolving rapidly, having achieved unparalleled popularity and commercial success in the last twenty years. In 2016, The Guardian reported on ‘The Rise and Rise of Tabletop Gaming,’ citing related social and design factors underpinning this surge in interest. While board games may have previously been synonymous with childhood, consumer demographics of modern board games are decidedly adult (Woods, 2012 ). They include young professionals, including couples, who prefer to play games with friends rather than go out to pubs or clubs. They often overlap with ‘geek culture,’ or individuals who are also interested in computers, video games, science fiction and comics (Woo, 2012 ). With the general acceptance of games in the broader culture, including those accessible on mobile platforms like smartphones and browsers, gamification within Western culture provides fertile ground for the continued proliferation of board games. Market research predicts a $4 billion growth in the global board games market from 2020, reaching $30 billion by 2026 (Arizton Advisory Intelligence, 2020 ). Millions attend conventions like GenCon, Spiel and the UK Games Expo annually. With the rise of game cafes, the growing acceptance and self-identification of ‘geek’ or ‘nerd culture’ (Kinney, 1993 ; Woo, 2012 ), and the pandemic spurring at-home forms of entertainment (Coward-Gibbs, 2022 ), board gaming is gaining popularity and visibility.

Purpose of the Current Studies

To date, there is a limited amount of research exploring the impact board gaming might have on the social lives of autistic individuals. This work, therefore, aims to address this gap in three ways: (1) By exploring the representation of autistic people in the hobby, (2) By understanding what it is autistic board gamers get out of the hobby, and (3) By introducing autistic people not already involved in the hobby to it, to understand if and how it could be beneficial to them. This paper reports three studies examining the relationship between autism and board games to better understand the potential benefits of board gaming for autistic individuals. Study 1 assessed the prevalence of autistic individuals and those with higher autistic traits in this hobby, as well as gamer preferences and motivations. Study 2 explored the lived experience of 13 autistic gamers through interviews. Study 3 introduced groups of autistic people to board games and then examined their utility through focus groups.

This work set out to investigate the prevalence of autism amongst board game hobbyists and evaluate whether this is indeed a leisure activity that is common in the autistic population (as anecdotal evidence suggests). A large dataset which surveyed hobbyist board gamers (Cross et al., 2023 ) was utilised to establish the prevalence of mental health conditions and other demographics in this population. Preferences for game styles, themes and mechanics, and gamers’ motivations for playing were also explored. These findings offer clinicians and educators interested in utilising board games in their work valuable data about the games that autistic individuals most and least enjoy. This dataset is open access on the open science framework ( https://osf.io/vygd3/?view_only=d1d52d8e0fca4e98be9c5c4dd54e846b ).

This study utilised a survey design administered on Qualtrics. A target sample of 1500 board gamers was solicited, and data collection was left open for two months. Participants were recruited from special interest groups for board gamers on social media, and further invites were sent out to gamers from industry mailing lists. This call was explicitly addressed to those already involved in the hobby. However, as we wanted to assess the rate of autism naturally present amongst this population, the call did not mention autism, and autistic participants were not directly recruited. Each participant was given a digital copy of a board game in return for participation. Respondents were surveyed on their demographics and preferences in the hobby. All measures and response formats are reported briefly below, and a full copy of all questions and answers can be found in the supplementary materials. More details on the design and data can be found at Cross et al. ( 2023 ).

RQ1: Is autism more or less prevalent among board gamers than in the general population?

RQ2: Do the motivations and preferences for board gaming differ between autistic and non-autistic players?


Respondents first reported gender, biological sex assigned at birth, age, ethnicity, nationality, educational level and diagnosed mental health conditions. These were answered using drop-down sections using the standard Qualtrics pre-sets. Those who indicated they had a diagnosis of ASC were asked to specify if they received that diagnosis from a medical professional and at what age they were diagnosed. All participants also completed the Autism Quotient (AQ), a commonly used 50-item measure of autistic trait levels (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001 ).

Gamers’ Experiences

Respondents were then asked to report their general experiences with playing board games. This included their level of familiarity with games (newbie/novice, casual, midcore/core or hardcore/expert), the number of hours played on average per month (< 1, 1–4, 5–9, 10–19, 20–29, 30–39, 40 +), and their preferred platform (online, in-person or both equally). Then, participants were asked to rate their enjoyment of several gaming elements such as preferred player count; game length, pieces (i.e., cards, dice, etc.), style (competitive, cooperative, etc.), classification (Euro, Ameri, Hybrid), and type (gateway, party, heavy, etc.), on a slider scale from ‘not at all’ to ‘very much’. Next, respondents were asked to rate their preferences on how much they enjoyed 28 board game mechanics (an industry/hobby-specific term referring to the rules and actions that keep the game moving towards a victory, i.e., dice rolling, worker placement, area control, player elimination, etc.) again from ‘not at all’ to ‘very much.’ Following this, respondents rated their enjoyment of the 14 most popular board gaming themes (as indicated by BoardGameGeek.com, i.e., war, crime, farming) on the same slider scale. Respondents then indicated (via similar sliding scales) how important (not important—very important) several aspects were when choosing a game (i.e., theme, components, mechanics, etc.) and what motivates them to play a game (competition, socialising, escapism, etc.). Respondents then indicated how important gaming was for their social life and how important it was to feel like a part of the board gaming community. All slider scales generated a number from 0 to 100 (which was not visible to participants) and were presented with the anchor point positioned in the middle of the scale, which needed to be moved before the page could progress. Definitions of all relevant terms and example games were provided alongside each question. For a full copy of the measures, please see the supplementary materials.


A total of 1603 individuals completed the questionnaire, specifically 1242 males and 361 females aged between 18 and 73 years old (mean age = 32.38; SD = 9.21), with ethnicities of White (60.6%), Asian (34.1%), Black (1.4%), Hispanic (1.1%), Middle Eastern (0.6%), and Other (2.2%). across 63 different countries, with a concentration of participants from the US (11.2%), UK (27.4%), France (18.3%) and China (25.5%). Participants showed a high level of education (37.7% reported being university graduates, and 20.7% held a postgraduate degree). Edge Hill University’s ethics committee granted full ethical approval, and all participants gave informed consent.

Results & Discussion

Mental health and neurodevelopmental conditions.

Alpha levels of Mann–Whitney U tests reported below were not corrected for multiple tests as these were exploratory analyses. Maintaining a 0.05 alpha level will provide further insights to explore in future studies. As shown by Table  1 , most participants (72.9%) indicated having no mental health or neurodevelopmental condition. In contrast, just over one-fourth of participants reported having at least one medically diagnosed mental health/neurodevelopmental condition. Of the respondents, 4.7% of the sample reported having autism, with Clopper-Pearson’s exact method suggesting 3.70 and 5.83% as the lower and upper limits for the population proportion with 95% level of confidence. This statistic is much higher than the estimated global prevalence rate of 1%, according to 99 estimates from a systematic review of 71 papers (Zeidan et al., 2022 ). The prevalence of individuals with autism in our sample is also higher compared to studies that looked at adults exclusively and reported a prevalence of 1.1% (95% CI: 0.3–1.9%; Brugha et al., 2011 ). Additionally, research suggests that autism rates are highest in Western countries (for instance, the prevalence in Asia is 0.36%) (Qiu et al., 2020 ). As such, our data suggests that autism rates among board gamers are significantly higher than is typically found in the general adult population worldwide. In a similar vein, given the complexity of many board games and the cognitive skill level required to play them, it is unlikely that individuals with intellectual disability (where comorbidity with autism is an estimated 25% (Idring et al., 2015 ) to 33% (Zeidan et al., 2022 ) would be represented in this online sample.

Our sample showed a typical prevalence of individuals with ADHD. A total of 4.1% (2.98–4.93 Clopper-Pearson’s 95% confidence limits) of participants reported a diagnosis of ADHD, which is in line with reported prevalence in adult general population of 2.5% (95% CI 2.1 – 3.1) to 5.2% reported by others (95% CI 4.6–5.8) (Fayyad et al., 2007 ; Simon et al., 2009 ). As past literature has found significant comorbidity between autism and ADHD in the general population (around 50%; Rong et al., 2021 ), we checked this comorbidity in our sample. Among individuals with a diagnosis of autism, 9.3% of individuals reported also having ADHD. This was higher than the frequency of ADHD in TD individuals (2.7%) and BAP individuals (5.8%). However, 9.3% comorbidity is significantly lower than what has been found in past studies looking at autism in the general population (around 50%; Rong et al., 2021 ), which may suggest that autistic board gamers are a unique group (discussed further in the discussion).

Similarly, participants with dyslexia were 4.2% (3.25–5.28 Clopper-Pearson’s 95% confidence limits), a similar prevalence rate to what is estimated in the general population.

Shaywitz and Shaywitz ( 2005 ) suggested that the prevalence of dyslexia is between 5 and 17% of school-age children in the United States, while, although the prevalence in adulthood is less studied, it is thought to be around 4% (DSM-V, as cited by Soriano-Ferrer & Martínez, 2017 ).

The most common mood disorder was depression, with 13.2% (11.49–14.85 Clopper-Pearson’s 95% confidence limits) of the sample reporting having received a diagnosis. This is in line with the estimates suggested by Lim et al. ( 2018 ) of 12.9%, and higher compared to the 8.1% estimates of depression prevalence among adults (20 + yo) in the USA between 2013 and 2016 (Brody et al., 2018 ). Anxiety was the second most common condition reported by 12.2% of participants (10.60–13.87 Clopper-Pearson’s 95% confidence limits). This was higher than what was reported by previous research that suggested that the current global prevalence of anxiety disorders adjusted for methodological differences was 7.3% (4.8–10.9%) and ranged from 5.3% (3.5–8.1%) in African cultures to 10.4% (7.0–15.5%) in Euro/Anglo cultures (Baxter et al., 2013 ). The prevalence of anxiety in our sample was also higher than that recorded in adults exclusively, which has been estimated to be 3.8–10.4% in Euro/Anglo cultures and 2.8% in Asian cultures (Remes et al., 2016 ).

Autism Quotient

Research suggests that many adults may have autism, but due to age and other variables, a formal diagnosis is often missed (Lai & Baron-Cohen, 2015 ). Therefore, we also explored the level of autistic traits self-reported by our sample. We were interested in exploring the relationship between board gaming and individuals with subclinical autistic traits, known as the Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP). The BAP refers to elevated but subclinical levels of autistic traits commonly possessed by close relatives of people with a clinical diagnosis of autism (Losh et al., 2011 ).

Participants’ mean AQ dichotomous score was 21.36 (SD: 7.09; median: 22, range: 1–45). A Wilcoxon signed-rank test indicated that the AQ dichotomous score of our sample was significantly higher than 19.38 ( Z  = 848643, p  < 0.001), which is the mean AQ dichotomous score of 450,394 people reported by Ruzich et al. ( 2015 ). The number of respondents who scored above the clinical cut-off of 32 was then calculated, indicating individuals who would be highly likely to have or receive a clinical diagnosis of autism (Woodbury-Smith et al., 2005 ). 107 participants (6.7%) had a dichotomous score equal to or higher than this cut-off score. If used as a proxy for the likelihood of an autism diagnosis, this suggests that autism is more than five times higher in this sample than the global prevalence rate of 1%. Next, we assessed the proportion of people who display elevated but not clinical levels of autistic traits, scoring in the Broader Autism Phenotype range of above 26 using the original cutoff scores for the BAP (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001 ). A total of 467 participants (29.1%) were included in the BAP range. The frequency of individuals scoring in the BAP range was far greater than the scores found in students in science fields (15.4%) and non-science fields (8.3%) (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001 ). To compare gamer motivations and preferences we split our sample into two groups: an ASC group (160 participants, 10% of our sample), which included everybody who reported having a diagnosis of autism and those who had a dichotomous score equal to or above the clinical cut-off point of 32 on the AQ, and a TD group (1443 participants), which included the remaining participants. A Kruskal–Wallis test ( X 2 (2) = 926.8, p  < 0.001) and pairwise comparisons (all p s < 0.001) confirmed that AQ total scores were significantly higher in people with a diagnosis of autism (mean: 144.2; SD: 8.8; median: 143.0; range: 131–176) compared to BAP individuals (mean: 129.7; SD: 4.7; median: 129; range: 117–144), which, in turn, had higher scores compared to neurotypicals (mean: 110.4; SD: 11.7; median: 112; range: 71–132).

The only neurodevelopmental condition which appeared elevated in our sample compared to the general population estimate was autism with 4.7% of board gamers in our sample reported having a clinical diagnosis of autism compared to the general population estimate of 1% (Zeidan et al., 2022 ). Equally, analyses showed that the average AQ score of this population was higher than the general population, with 6.7% of the sample scoring above the clinical cut-off and 29.1% in the BAP range. Those who reported having a medical diagnosis of autism, combined with those that scored above the clinical cut-off point for the AQ, equalled 10% of the total sample. These findings show that, as hypothesised, the proportion of autistic individuals and individuals with elevated levels of autistic traits are over-represented amongst board gamers compared to the general population.

Gamers’ Experience

A significant Pearson’s Chi-Square (Table  2 ) suggested that participants in the ASC group (those with a clinical diagnosis of autism or those scoring above the clinical cut-off in the AQ) had more board game experience than the non-ASC group. In total, 62.8% of autistic gamers consider themselves midcore or hardcore players, while only 50.0% of the non-ASC group considered themselves as such. A significant Pearson’s Chi Square also indicated that the ASC group (53.1%) preferred to play online over the Non-ASC group (40.4%). There was no significant difference in the number of hours played between the two groups.

Game Preferences

Mann–Whitney U tests (Table  3 ) indicated that the non-ASC group preferred to play with 3 or more players, while this was rated lower for those in the ASC group. Meanwhile, those in the ASC group liked to play alone more than those in the non-ASC group. The ASC group also reported a preference for cooperative games over the various forms of competitive games, a preference not seen in the non-ASC group. Similarly, those in the ASC group reported a greater dislike for lighter social/party games compared to those in the non-ASC group.

Although Mann–Whitney U tests (Table  4 and Fig.  1 ) indicated that those in the ASC group consistently gave lower ratings than those in the non-ASC group, the rating order was similar between the non-ASC and ASC groups, with few notable exceptions. Autistic players ordered engine building, hand management, tile placement, set collection and dungeon crawling mechanics as more preferable than Non-ASC players. Those in the ASC group also showed a reduced preference for certain social elements, including storytelling, trading, social deduction, deduction, and hidden information games.

figure 1

Median Ratings for Game Mechanics in Order for Each Group

Again, Mann–Whitney U tests (Table  5 and Fig.  2 ) indicated that, out of the 14 themes, those in the ASC group gave lower ratings compared to those in the non-ASC group for the adventure, ancient, real-world, crime, and horror themes. Despite this, the order of preference across themes is similar between the two groups. The only notable exception is the crime theme, which is one of the least favourite themes for the ASC group while occupying a relatively high position for the non-ASC group.

figure 2

Median Ratings for Game Themes in Order for Each Group

Game Choice and Motivation

Mann–Whitney U tests (Table  6 ) indicated that the ASC group gave lower ratings than the non-ASC group when indicating how important gameplay, mechanics, theme, style and components were in the choice of board games. However, the order of the ratings within each category seemed to be the same between the non-ASC and ASC groups. The only exception is that the non-ASC group were more motivated to play board games because of the emphasis on social interaction rather than strategizing. Meanwhile, this was reversed for the ASC group.

Summary of Findings

Autistic gamers showed a preference for online over in-person gaming. Also, they showed an elevated appreciation for cooperative and solo gameplay while rating party games lower than their non-ASC counterparts. The higher ratings for solo and online gaming and lower ratings for party games could be interpreted as showing that autistic people are more comfortable in their own company than neurotypicals (Baldwin & Costley, 2015 ). However, other findings, such as the penchant for cooperative games, show a social side to autistic players. Autistic gamers also ranked certain kinds of game mechanics more favourably than neurotypicals. These mainly included logical and systematic aspects of games, such as engine building, set collection and hand management, while ranking social elements such as storytelling, deduction and trading less favourably. This seems to mirror autistic preferences for logic, maths, and the sciences (Wei et al., 2013 ).

Similarly, autistic players ranked game themes revolving around transport, trains, history, and animals higher than neurotypicals, with other themes such as horror and crimes ranked lower. This overlaps with popular passions in autism (Cho et al., 2017 ). It also contradicts anecdotal evidence that individuals with autism are more likely to be interested in crime (Im, 2016 ). Similarly, autistic gamers ranked strategizing as a more important motivation for playing than socialising, which was reversed amongst neurotypicals. The results presented here help elucidate autistic individuals’ reasons for board gaming, and the dataset is made open access to aid with this.

Importantly, our results suggest that autistic people are able to find aspects of gameplay that suit their particular needs and interests. While there are differences between autistic and non-autistic board game preferences, board games have enough variety that they can accommodate a variety of preferences. That said, there are still significant areas of overlap in the preferences of autistic and non-autistic gamers, showing that there are ways to play games in mixed groups without sacrificing enjoyment. Furthermore, in line with monotropism, it appears that autistic players are playing board games for longer, and even playing individually. This suggests that board games may represent an overlap between a special interest and a preference for systemising. To further understand the reasons why autistic people may be drawn to board gaming, and the way that board gaming affects their social lives, we interviewed 13 autistic people who were board gaming enthusiasts.

Thirteen autistic board game hobbyists (10 male, 3 female, age range: 24–51) from the US, Europe and the UK were recruited through board gaming social media networks and through contact information left in Study 1. All participants were avid board game players; some were also involved in their design, distribution and retail. All participants had a formal diagnosis of autism (except one who was self-diagnosed). Interviews were conducted online (via video conferencing) or in person, with participants choosing their preferred mode, and each one lasted around one hour. All participants gave full informed consent, were debriefed upon the interview’s conclusion, and paid £10. The study received full ethical approval from Edge Hill University’s ethics review board.

The semi-structured interviews focused on individuals’ experiences surrounding board games, motivations and preferences, and how they felt the hobby intersected with their condition. Example questions included ‘What do you enjoy most about the hobby?’ ‘How does gaming feature in your everyday life?’ ‘Would you say your interest in board games relates to your autistic traits, and if yes, how so?’ All interviews were recorded and then transcribed. Two independent coders then coded these transcriptions using the process outlined by Graneheim and Lundman (2004). Specifically, they each independently reviewed the data and coded each interview into subthemes. After independently coding the transcripts and creating a list of subthemes for each interview, the two coders reconvened. Together they agreed on a list of subthemes that appeared consistently across the interviews based on their independent coding. They then consensually agreed on a set of master themes that they felt best characterised the interviews and subsequent subthemes.

The method of analysis used throughout the coding process was Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) (Eatough & Smith, 2017 ), a type of thematic analysis focusing on lived experience and participant voices that is particularly suited to autism research (MacLeod, 2019 ). IPA is beneficial for amplifying the voices of members of marginalised and minority groups, as it attempts to use the participants’ own language to form codes, themes, and subthemes (Tuffour, 2017 ). It is also useful when researchers are interested in moving beyond pre-conceived theory and instead want to understand how individual experiences may open new areas of inquiry (Smith et al., 2009 ). It is important to note the positionality of the researchers in this study. One of the researchers was unfamiliar with autism and board gaming. The other was a seasoned autism researcher and familiar with board games. This difference in backgrounds was preferable as it meant that shared observations about codes and themes were driven by the data rather than familiarity with existing research literature.

RQ1: What does hobbyist board gaming afford autistic players? RQ2: How do they conceptualise the intersection between board gaming and autism?

Results and Discussion

Four key themes arose from the interviews. See Table  7 for the frequency of themes within the interviews and selected quotes from participants that illustrate each theme. One coder applied the final codes. Results highlighted the benefits of board gaming for autistic individuals involving structure, friendships and escaping the outside world.

Theme 1: Systems are Both Comforting and Stimulating

Participants discussed how board games’ intellectual challenge and strategic depth drew them into the hobby from an early age. Learning the rules of a game and figuring out how to use those rules to maximise their strategy was key to their enjoyment. The rules gave games a challenge by constraining players to specific pre-sets (time limits, hand limits, turn limits, dice rolls, and victory goals). In this way, games became like a puzzle to solve. The sense of competition, problem-solving, and accomplishment was important for participants. The ability to play games over and over and thus improve on their previous strategy or take more risks in the game was particularly rewarding.

In addition to finding the structure and repetition of the games engaging, participants also found comfort in how game play was based on a clear system. Knowing the rules meant that nothing unexpected was going to happen and it also meant everyone started the game on the same page. Each player had the same rules to follow, and they didn’t have to worry about anything unexpected happening that they might not understand. Importantly, conversations and discussions were centred on predefined, mutually understood systems. Players felt like they understood the ‘language’ of the game based on their comfort with board game systems, and so it was easy to engage other players in discussions around that game and other games. In this way, being a board game enthusiast with extensive knowledge about board games led to engaging discussions about this shared interest.

Participants reported that the rules and structure involved in playing the board game were both stimulating and comforting. Previous research by Müller et al. ( 2008 ) found that structured social environments were ideal for interactions between autistic people and others. Results of the current study support this, with all participants expressing how the rules and structured setting of board games were well matched with their autistic traits, as it gave a sense of security compared to the usual interactions where the rules are unclear (Mazurek, 2014 ). Board games match well with the systemising theory of autism, which explains the motivation of autistic people to rely on structure and rules to help their decision-making (Baron-Cohen, 2009 ).

Theme 2: Passions and Escapism

Many people discussed how board games had become a passion. In this way, when they played board games with other gamers who were also passionate about the hobby, they could participate in what felt like meaningful conversations. In other contexts, they might feel self-conscious when talking in detail about a special interest. Through board gaming, they found people who understand why they love the things they do. This gave participants a sense of belonging and connectedness.

Inherent to this enjoyment of engaging with a special interest in board gaming, games themselves provided escapism through immersion. Participants reported feeling absorbed in a new world when playing a game, particularly when it was aligned with another passion (i.e., science fiction, fantasy, animals or history). Individuals could find many different themes and mechanics associated with games that suit their differences, preferences, needs and interests. One participant who runs a board gaming club in their community found that through playing games, their autistic attendees felt more comfortable discussing their other passions (like Pokemon, Marvel or Dungeons and Dragons) and often found that other gamers shared these passions.

Immersion not only allowed for engagement in a passion but also gave participants license to not think about real life. Participants could escape themselves by being a character and focusing on the game’s progression. More than anything, games gave them the liberty to do something purely for enjoyment and something that had no lasting ramifications as it’s ‘just a game.’ As one participant explained, ‘It enables me to just switch off my brain.’ Participants expressed that being themselves can be too pressurising but that board games are a distraction from this stress. They help manage extreme emotions by gaining comfort in the knowledge that the purpose at that moment is to have fun and not take things too seriously.

Passions and escapism allowed participants to lose themselves within their areas of interest. The wide selection of board games allowed them to choose games based on specific passions, resulting in enjoyment and satisfaction. Indeed, many common board game themes such as sci-fi, transport, animals, etc. match common passions of autistic people (Klin et al., 2007 ). Engaging in passions was clearly an essential component of the hobby and was helpful for reducing stress and anxiety (Attwood, 2003 ). Furthermore, engaging in active discussion about passions can evidently reduce autistic individuals’ difficulties in communication and social interaction (Winter-Messiers, 2007 ). As well as highlighting the importance of passions for adults, the current study shows the importance of passions being positive, not negative, and something that needs to be encouraged and seen as valuable, not a problem.

Theme 3: Games as a Social Lubricant

An overriding theme in the interviews was the social side of gaming. The hobby created opportunities for making friends and joining the gaming community. One participant said, “It’s probably my primary method of making friends”. Participants overwhelmingly attested that games were a social lubricant, allowing them to interact socially in comforting and authentic ways.

Participants discussed how the structure of board games enhanced their ability to socialise. By being able to focus on a game, interactions were less nebulous. In this way, the game being at the root of the interaction reduced pressure and stress. Games provided common ground in conversation where there was no need to worry about small talk or trying to fit in. They already fit in with the group because of the interests they shared. “ Yeah, it’s just a medium through which to be with other people.” Board gaming provided security to engage in meaningful conversations where the social interactions occurred in parallel with the game, which reduced pressure and led to less masking.

Players also got to know other players meaningfully by seeing how they played together. Some of their closest friendships evolved by seeing how their play styles fit with other players. Getting along in the game also made conversations outside of the game easier. It afforded an avenue to nurture friendships. Planning to play games together again, meeting up at a board gaming event, or playing games online was a way for players to socialise. Because friendships with gamers were based on shared interests, participants felt like their board game friends knew their authentic selves.

Participants also discussed how their board gaming friendship groups were a mix of autistic and non-autistic players. They felt that within these mixed groups, they were appreciated for their autistic traits, for instance, being the first to learn the rules, being the main organiser of meet-ups, or even being the most level-headed. Participants discussed how in their experience, it was prevalent for gamers to have autism or be somewhere on the spectrum, so in this way, it was not stressful to disclose their autism to fellow board gamers. Almost every participant discussed how they had moved away from playing video games precisely because they were getting so much more social enjoyment from board games, a pastime still full of strategy and replayability but one that better facilitated social interaction with real-life players.

This theme discussed how board games may work as a social lubricant. Previous research explains that while autistic individuals struggle with social skills such as communication, they still desire social interaction and friendships just like neurotypicals (Crompton et al., 2020 ). Coupled with research showing that board games positively affect the development of friendships (Parks & Parks, 2023 ) and encourage conversation and reciprocal social behaviours (Rogerson et al., 2018 ), the current study expands on previous research by articulating the broader motivations for gaming. Board games allow autistic individuals to find people with the same interests. They can talk about their passions, which instead of appearing tedious and creating awkward moments, is welcomed within these groups. Thanks to its straightforward rules, the game also becomes a safe place where social reciprocity can flourish.

Theme 4: Social Games and Deception

Deception is a mechanic of some popular board games, often referred to as social deception games, that require players to hide their identities or catch which player among them is bluffing. Popular social deception board games, which follow closely from the original parlour game ‘Mafia,’ include games like Werewolf, Spyfall, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, Battlestar Galactica and Shadows over Camelot. In these games, a randomly chosen player is dealt a character card which tells them whether they are ‘innocent’ or ‘a traitor,’ and the game’s goal is to ‘win’ as your character by either revealing the traitor or evading detection. Some of these games are relatively short and could be conceived as ‘party games.’ Others are played over several hours and have more complex game mechanics, requiring sustained attention to detect deception or deceive other players. Within the interviews, participants were explicitly asked about their enjoyment of social deception games due to research on autism and theory of mind, which suggests autistic people may struggle with bluffing and detecting deceit (Frith et al., 1994) and honesty, which suggests that autistic people dislike mistruth (Atherton et al., 2019 ).

Interestingly, our participants reported that, on the whole, they quite enjoyed social deception games. Some participants stated that this likely would be a surprise, as they were aware of the stereotype that autistic people would do poorly at such games. Instead, they found that the logical side of figuring out other people’s intentions was fun and something they did well. At the same time, participants reported that they often struggled when they were the traitor, as they felt it was hard to come up with a lie under pressure. That said, some participants reported that after having played social deception games for many years, they had ‘figured out’ strategies for being the traitor after observing others. Other participants felt comfortable admitting that lying under pressure was simply a skill they did not possess even after having played these games quite often. However, because lie production took place in a gamified setting and was ‘just for fun,’ they did not mind that this was a bit hard for them and still enjoyed playing these kinds of games. More than anything, the participants enjoyed how social these games were, so the shared enjoyment of the group overshadowed their unease when playing as the traitor.

Social deception games were a theme which exposed some participants’ complicated relationships with bluffing and deception. Some participants enjoyed playing them, while others did not believe they had the necessary skills or motivation. However, participants did suggest that they enjoyed the social aspects of these types of games even if they found lie production difficult. They also felt that games were a safe space to practice these skills, and they appreciated how the game allowed experimentation with these types of mechanics. This is a particularly interesting theme as there is a plethora of research that suggests not only are autistic people poor deceivers (which participants largely supported) but that autistic people have a strong preference for honesty (Atherton et al., 2019 ). However, this theme suggests that there are aspects of deception that autistic people enjoy and that if practised in the right setting, they are quite competent (many participants discussed observing both verbal and non-verbal cues to spot lies), and games may provide a safe space to practice these skills.

The current study aimed to explore the lived experiences of autistic gamers to better understand why they might engage in the hobby and what benefits they associated with board gaming. Four themes emerged from the interviews, the first involved how the systems inherent to board games were both stimulating and comforting, the second discussed how board games offered escapism and overlap with passions, the third showed how games acted as a social lubricant or alternative vehicle for social communication, and finally the fourth had to do with social deception games and how these were both difficult but enjoyable.

In conclusion, these themes both support and contradict a number of influential theories of autism as understood through the lens of the board gaming hobby. First, interest in board games as explained by autistic boardgamers centres upon the structure that defines the game. This structure is inherently interesting, as it allows strategizing and improvement over time through replayability. Not only is the board gaming structure interesting, but it provides healthy boundaries within the social interactions between players. In contrast to open-ended social interactions like chit-chat at a dinner party, players are able to talk about the game and get to know people through the way they interact around the board. Importantly, these interviews contradict one of the dominant theories of autism, the social motivation theory, which suggests that autistic people are not as interested in social interactions as neurotypical people (Chevallier et al., 2012 ). Participants here discussed how one of the biggest draws to board gaming is the social connection they experience when playing games, including how they prefer them over less socially interactive hobbies like video games. This includes playing games that they find more difficult in order to have social experiences within groups. One can take away from these interviews the possibility that autistic people, while socially motivated, may lack the confidence to engage in unstructured social interactions (or they simply find this style of interaction less rewarding). Activities like board gaming may provide a valuable set of social constraints which allow autistic people to engage in ways that map onto their existing strengths and interests.

Study 2 interviewed autistic people who already play board games. Study 3 built on this by exploring the benefits of introducing board games to autistic individuals who were not previously involved in this hobby. To achieve this, four community centres for autistic individuals around the UK were visited. Attendees were introduced to a range of games over an afternoon play session and then focus groups were conducted to learn more about their experiences.

In this mixed methods study, the researchers visited community groups for autistic adults to play a range of commercially available board games (Dixit, Codenames, Werewolf, Spyfall, Hanabi, Deception Murder in Hong Kong. For a description of what these games entail, please see boardgamegeek.com). Twenty-eight individuals took part, 16 males and 12 females aged between 18 and 60 years old. The majority of these were not regular gamers. All participants had a diagnosis of ASC and were attendees at 1 of 3 different community groups for autistic adults in the UK in Plymouth (n = 10), Maidenhead (n = 8), Huddersfield (n = 5) and a neurodiversity group at a university in Liverpool (n = 5). Four separate game sessions and four separate focus groups were conducted, one at each of the above sites. Each play session lasted for around 2 h, and participants at each site played games with each other and with the two researchers. Following the game sessions, the participants at each site were interviewed about their experiences in a focus group, which lasted approximately 45–60 min. A range of community groups were invited to participate, and all who agreed to participate were included. All individuals had a formal diagnosis of autism from a medical professional.

The semi-structured interviews focused on the game’s experiences, including preferences and challenges, and how similar board games may be used in future group sessions. All participants gave full informed consent and were debriefed upon the conclusion of the interview. The study received full ethical approval from Edge Hill University’s ethical review board.

RQ1: What could hobbyist board gaming afford new autistic players?

RQ2: How do players conceptualise the intersection between board gaming and autism?

Two key themes arose from the interviews. See Table  8 for the frequency of themes within the interviews and selected quotes. These frequencies were based on the agreement between coders on the subthemes found across all interviews, and then each interview was recoded by one of the researchers to gain accurate frequency counts in the interviews for each subtheme and theme. Results highlighted how board gaming could be an alternative vehicle for forging social relationships and how board gaming can be both challenging but also a growing experience.

Theme 1: Board Games as an Alternative Vehicle for Forging Social Relationships

Participants described how playing games acted as a vehicle for creating and maintaining friendships. Games reduced the anxiety that comes with traditional avenues for making friends. Board games, in fact, created the perfect environment for socialisation because it eliminated small talk, which participants found dull and disingenuous. Similarly, the game provided a distraction from the pressure of usual conversations, while at the same time, the game provided the topic for the talk among players. The social interaction between autistic individuals and other players, therefore, occurred naturally, without imposition. This was rewarding for the players because, while playing the game, they got to know others while avoiding awkward situations. Eventually, for some participants, the fluid interaction with others was the only reason why they enjoyed the game.

In summary, participants in these sessions expressed how playing games offered a rewarding and enjoyable alternative form of social interaction, which helped alleviate many of the social pressures they often felt in unstructured social situations. Aside from the social side of board gaming, our participants also expressed a range of other competencies that they felt could benefit from board gaming, even though these also presented significant challenges.

Theme 2: Board Games Can Be Both a Challenge but Also a Growth Experience to Demonstrate and Build Skills

Participants described how games presented various challenges but also offered an avenue for skill development. For example, many of the deceptive/bluffing aspects of some games were problematic for some players, even though they provided a source of excitement and strategy.

Participants indicated that they did not like to lie because their non-verbal actions betrayed them.

Similarly, making up a credible lie was sometimes difficult for them. For these reasons, they felt they did a poor job in games requiring them to trick, bluff or deceive. Although individuals clearly expressed that they found deception challenging, they also noted how the games naturally help refine skills such as perspective-taking, bluffing, and reading other people. For example, participants talked at length about the way they observed other players’ behaviours to try and detect and untangle truthful vs bluffing statements in the games.

Participants also enjoyed the metacognition that these games encouraged, such as thinking about their own thinking strategies, and other players’ choices. For example, a more logical/deductive strategy was often used to detect lies. Players enjoyed challenging themselves socially by building their persuasion and debate skills. However, participants recognised that autistic individuals might find other aspects of the games challenging, particularly in relation to the complexity of the game. Despite these issues, participants discussed how games allowed them to grow their confidence.

Others noted that although they find the process challenging, this challenge allows them to learn to adapt to change.

Autistic individuals, new to board gaming, expressed many of the same sentiments as more seasoned gamers in Study 2. They discussed the way in which board games can act as a social lubricant and the comfort found in the systems and rules inherent in games. They also discussed how they felt they struggled with the social deductive and bluffing aspects of games, yet also described the kinds of rich perspective-taking they engaged in when playing them. Unlike more seasoned players in Study 2, Study 3’s participants did not discuss game themes and passions, although this is not surprising since they were exposed to a significantly smaller range of games. Unlike Study 2’s participants, they also reported struggling more with some of the more complex rules, though this, too, is to be expected since they were less experienced.

General Discussion

We reported on a series of studies highlighting the unique potential that board gaming may have to impact and transform the lives of adults on the spectrum. In study 1, we explored the popularity of the hobby among autistic people. As predicted, across a sample of over 1600 board gamers, we found that autism (and anxiety, conditions that often co-occur) were elevated among board gamers, while other mental health conditions were not. Furthermore, we found that the BAP was also elevated in our sample. Clinical and subclinical cut-off rates for autistic traits presented in our sample occurred at a significantly higher rate than is typically seen in the general population. This study also highlights autistic players’ preferences and motivations within this hobby. In study 2, autistic board gamers indicated that the form of structured socialisation that took place during the game suited autistic ways of being. In study 3, we introduced board games to community groups of autistic adults around the UK, finding that board gaming ‘newbies’ echoed many of the sentiments of more seasoned gamers. Games made socialising easier, and it was fun to problem-solve within a set of rules. Perhaps most importantly, study 3 showed how board games could bring together diverse groups of autistic people who often have different needs and interests. Groups stated how they had come together for the first time rather than interacting within their smaller, well-established friendship circles. Together, our results suggest that board games may occupy an essential place in the social lives of autistic people. It also indicates that this may be a valuable hobby for autistic people, as it may benefit them cognitively and socially in several ways.

Improving mental health outcomes for autistic people is a pressing matter for autism research (Crane et al., 2019 ). Research suggests that as autistic people age, they are less likely to experience gains in quality of life compared to neurotypical people. This disparity is particularly pronounced for autistic people diagnosed later in life, which is a growing proportion of the autistic population (Atherton et al., 2021 ). To increase the quality of life for autistic people, understanding and promoting healthy leisure patterns may be essential (Potvin et al., 2013 ). A plethora of research suggests that friendship and social connection protect mental health (for a review, see King et al., 2016 ), with shared interests as a key factor in establishing relationships (Yang et al., 2011 ). This may be particularly important for autistic people who exhibit passions, which can be a source of bonding with others which can lead to an acceptance of atypical behaviours (Sosnowy et al., 2018 ), and allow for a more immediate connection and purpose within a social group (Chan et al., 2022 ).

Our findings suggest that board games may be particularly beneficial for autistic adults by allowing them to interact socially in a way that is suited to their social style. Research shows that autistic people struggle to socialise in more open-ended or loosely structured settings that require small talk (Pfeiffer et al., 2017 ). In situations where there is no structure to conversation, autistic people can miss social cues leading to social anxiety (Livingston et al., 2019 ), resulting in avoiding social situations where they might face rejection (Hull et al., 2017 ). This mismatch between neurotypical social styles and autistic ways of being may be at the heart of the many studies finding that autistic people experience significantly more loneliness than neurotypicals (Umagami et al., 2022 ). Despite a need for social connection, autistic people may feel that their social skills preclude them from entering social situations where they can cultivate friendships (Stice & Lavner, 2019 ).

Board gaming offers a unique solution to these issues by removing the small talk and moving the attention from other implicit social cues such as body language, which autistic people often find challenging, to the game and its rules. Additionally, players can use a common language about the game (Knight et al., 2019 ), allowing them to discuss their passions with others who share these interests. Finally, the structure of gaming allows for further interactions over time, as indicated by participants who were both seasoned gamers (study 2) and new to gaming (study 3). Because board games can be played at a slower pace than video games or sports, players can converse more freely during the game. Over time, they can have the unstructured interactions that autistic people often find difficult to have immediately or with strangers.

Similarly, board gaming offers autistic people self-efficacy as it depends on cognitive skills particularly adapted to autistic ways of being. Since the earliest conceptualisations of autism, the condition was characterised as one where individuals enjoyed understanding systems and rules (Kanner, 1943 ). After more investigation, researchers found that autistic people (Wheelwright & Baron-Cohen, 2001 ) and their family members (Baron-Cohen, 1998 ) were more likely to be involved in the STEM fields, leading to the influential ‘empathising-systemising’ theory of autism (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001 ). In this theory, autistic people are posited to be ‘hyper-systemisers,’ meaning they are inclined to figure out the rules or structure underlying incoming information (Baron-Cohen, 2006 ). While the assertion that autistic people are not as empathetic as other people (a position taken by the systemising theory) has been the source of much debate (Duffy & Dorner, 2011 ), there is evidence that an autistic strength is the ability to decode the underlying ‘systems’ at play in our world (Greenberg et al., 2018 ). Systemising may also lie at the heart of autistic passions, as discussed, for instance, in interviews with highly successful autistic people (South & Sunderland, 2022 ).

Given autistic people’s penchant for systemising, the focus that board games place on understanding rules and the social aspects of conversing about the underlying structure of games makes this a particularly valuable pastime for autistic adults. Research shows that autistic people do particularly well in occupations where they can work with structures and passions (Bross & Travers, 2017 ). Few studies have focused on the potential for hobbies that build on an understanding and enjoyment of systems and passions. While several studies show that autistic people enjoy video games, research suggests that video games can become problematic for autistic people who, possibly in response to developing a special interest in video games, are more likely to meet the criteria for video game addiction (Coutelle et al., 2022 ). As discussed by participants in Study 2, board games offer similar pleasures to video games, while being more social. While they can be enjoyed by themselves online, all games can be played with others, and some games can only be played with others. The sociality of board games seemed to be particularly important for participants. In this way, board gaming may provide a vital opportunity for social networking for autistic people. This finding is also echoed in research on tabletop role playing games with autistic players (Atherton, Hathaway, et al., in press), where results showed that role playing through a character allowed for a deep bond with fellow players in a way that felt particularly natural and authentic.

Future research may want to understand how board gaming as a hobby can be used to benefit the lives of autistic people; research may also wish to focus on sub-populations with restricted language and the use of language-based games in relevant skill-building. Research comparing mental health outcomes in autistic board gamers and video gamers may be useful, as our research suggests that board games may offer advantages to video games. There is also scope to investigate board gaming interventions for autistic children and adults. Our research indicates that social and cognitive skills are helped through board gameplay, which may be particularly beneficial to autistic people. Investigating the benefits of board gaming in a controlled study would be an essential contribution.

There are several limitations to this study that would benefit from further research. First, this study focused on individuals with the cognitive capacity to play modern board games, which may exclude some individuals on this autism spectrum. That said, given that many commercial board games have now produced child-friendly versions of games, it may be that with the right support individuals with high cognitive needs may still be able to engage in the hobby with support and simpler gaming formats. One recent study has investigated board gaming in an adult autistic population with co-occurring intellectual disabilities (Atherton et al., 2024 ) and found similar benefits in this sample, suggesting that board games may be a useful hobby across the spectrum.

Another limitation of this study is that while approximately 1/3 of the sample was comprised of people with non-white ethnic backgrounds, the majority of participants were White, male, and highly educated compared to the global population. This homogeny is also found among board gaming hobbyists, including board game designers, who are disproportionately white males (see Dias, 2023 , for a review). Given that autism is also disproportionately diagnosed in males over females, and in White over minority children (Shenouda et al., 2023 ), it may be that this sample again speaks to the fact that a specific population may be more likely to both receive an autism diagnosis and be introduced to board gaming. Future research should focus on recruiting more diverse samples and exploring how board games may be beneficial to the wider autistic population, including females and those with minority ethnic identities.

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Liam Cross & Gray Atherton

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LC and GA contributed to study conception and design. LC and GA contributed to data collection. LC, FB, AP and GA contributed to analysis and interpretation of results. LC, AP and GA contributed draft manuscript preparation. All authors reviewed the results and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Cross, L., Belshaw, F., Piovesan, A. et al. Game Changer: Exploring the Role of Board Games in the Lives of Autistic People. J Autism Dev Disord (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-024-06408-0

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